Confederate Relics Turn Augusta’s Commissioners Into Cowards

This column appears in the August 24, 2017 edition of Urban Pro Weekly.

There’s an old saying about the dangers of not knowing one’s roots: “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.”

Maybe that’s why, in 2017, America still feels like the Confederate South of the mid-1800s.

Of course, any history book or simple Google search can tell me that the confederates lost the Civil War in 1865. Thing is, it’s hard to tell with all of the confederate monuments and memories in plain sight.

There’s one monument in the heart of downtown, on the 700 block of Broad Street.

Among its lowlights: “No name rose so white and fair. None fell so pure of crime.”

I guess slavery wasn’t a crime, then.

A short 5- to 10-minute trip down the street and across the Savannah River to Calhoun Park in North Augusta, S.C. will take us to another confederate monument. The obelisk in question honors Thomas McKie Meriwether:

“In life he exemplified the highest-ideal of Anglo-Saxon civilization. By his death he assured to the children of his beloved land the supremacy of that ideal.”

It should go without saying that there’s no place in our society today for these racist ideals. Yet here they are, disrespectfully in front of our faces.

When I think about the confederate south, I think about oppression. I think about slavery. I think about the following period of Reconstruction, where Black people still were not able to gain a foothold in society. As a matter of fact, the “hero” Meriwether was honored for his role in what is known as the Hamburg Massacre. The violent tragedy began after a group of white men sought to intimidate Blacks who wanted to vote.

Yep, that’s right. There’s a monument in North Augusta standing as we speak that highlights the confederacy, as well as voter suppression.

Sad to say, confederate ideologies have been in the news ever since a handful of knuckleheads went down to their local hardware or department store and marched with a few tiki torches at the University of Virginia.

One of the few bright sides to that hateful display has been a nationwide response to tear down confederate statues. All over the country, in the light of day and in the dead of night, these participation trophies to honor the losers of the Civil War have been rightfully struck down.

Too bad this hasn’t happened locally.

Now, it’s one thing to be silent on the issue. It’s another issue entirely for a couple of Black commissioners on a majority Black governing board in a majority Black city to make these types of comments.

“You ought to let sleeping dogs sleep,” is what Super District 9 Commissioner Marion Williams said to a local newspaper — a local newspaper that, ironically enough, happens to be across the street from the confederate monument at the 700 block of Broad Street. “When you get that type of conversation started, it doesn’t help. We talk at it, we don’t talk about it” and ultimately, “it’s going to result in some violence.”

Wait, so Commissioner Williams can talk tough when it comes to sagging pants, but he’s as quiet as a church mouse when it comes to confederate monuments? Pathetic.

Super District 2 Commissioner Dennis Williams chimed in as well:

“Personally I don’t have a problem with the monument,” he said. “I understood what the monuments were for – those are symbols of past history and hopefully a constant reminder to our community never to allow our community to get in that type of situation again.”

This brand of politics cripples and discourages the community. If we can’t get Black leaders to speak out against a moral wrong, how in the word can we get them to speak boldly on more complex issues such as income inequality?

It is important for us, at this very moment, to understand what fuels supremacy. In this case, it isn’t just about a culture of misinformation and misplaced glory. It is about leaders with an inferiority complex who feel as if their hands are tied by the confederate ghosts of the past — and the supremacist stakeholders of the present.

Really, the commissioners had nothing to lose. Their voting leads and voting bases are strong. Even with the understanding that most of this putrid monuments are protected under state law, Kennesaw’s local government still made a resolution that challenged the state legislature to allow local municipalities to vote on the monuments.

With all of the racial, social and political unrest in our country, now is the time for leaders, not losers. We need men of courage, not cowards.

When it comes to the ghosts of the confederacy, an old movie quote comes to mind: “I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost!”

We need the ghostbusters right now. And while we’re at it, we need some myth busters as well.

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