It’s about time we remove the John C. Calhoun statue from Marion Square- to make a stand for Southern unity and against Neo-Confederacy.
The continued presence of the John C. Calhoun statue in Marion Square is most aggressively supported by the Neo-Confederate movement, with a few outside the movement lukewarmly supporting its continued presence on the grounds of it being a “historical monument”, and the majority of society being indifferent to or in favor of the prospect of its removal. It goes without saying that the statue’s situation in a place of reverence creates a rift in the native population- something the Neo-Confederates celebrate. While not directly advocating for keeping the statue in Marion Square, those wishing to displace South Carolinians and our cultures through property tax-driven gentrification and residential development, as well as those who wish to abuse our environment, also relish this division in the native population that hinders organized opposition to their efforts.
Neo-Confederates bill themselves "Southern nationalists" or “Southern patriots”. I object to this. They seek to divide Southerners along racial boundaries. They hold non-White Southerners in contempt. They are not working for the assertion of our status as a constituent people of this country, but rather forwarding a White supremacist and separatist ideology- emphasizing color and de-emphasizing common culture. They neglect the fact that race does not determine ethnicity. They do not care about issues such as poverty, displacement through property tax-driven gentrification, the pillaging of the Southern environment by both big business and the real estate industry, and the need for improvement in public education that affect Southerners across racial lines. They are not concerned with the legitimate protection of Southern culture- including South Carolinian linguistic forms from the Gullah language and Charleston Brogue to the Lowcountry Drawl and the Inland Southern Dialect of the Upcountry, our architectural styles, our culinary traditions, our music, and our visual arts- or advancing the welfare of the Southern people. They hate their fellow Southerners who happen to be folks of color while identifying with foreign White supremacist movements. They refuse to acknowledge that we are culturally a creole civilization.
Again, they are not concerned with protecting our cultures or advancing the welfare of our people. Nor are they concerned with striving for the environmental well-being of our land. They are concerned about “White racial integrity”. They are racial nationalists, not Southern patriots.
It’s important to note that virtually all White folks were racist against non-White folks to varying degrees in Calhoun’s day and age. Some use this fact to wrongly excuse the continued veneration of historically-significant racists of that era completely defined by said bigotry- they simply don’t consider nuance.
It is imperative we examine historical figures with a sense of nuance and in the context of their time- whether they took the most admirable positions, the most objectionable positions, positions in between the two, or an assortment of these positions (as was usually the case) for their era/eras. We must praise them for their commendable accomplishments and stances and condemn them for their failures. Calhoun’s early call for infrastructural improvements within the country- his most noteworthy stand of any decency- simply does not redeem his later escalation of pro-slavery rhetoric to levels previously unseen. A statue or portrait of him only belongs in a museum as a purely educational relic. He does not deserve to be honored.
Let’s take the time to examine some other figures of this era through the lens of nuance and objectivity to give a couple other examples of this method's usage.
Abraham Lincoln is admirable for his Mid-19th Century racial progressivism, but would be quite an extreme anti-Black racist by today’s standards- considering him in the context of his time, we can still celebrate his legacy. On the other hand, there is militant secessionist South Carolina Congressman Robert Barnwell Rhett, the successor to Calhoun as leader of the South’s most adamantly pro-slavery faction, and escalator of their rhetoric to new heights of militancy. He should- as a militant racist even in his day-, without question, be condemned.
Now to discussing the related need to remove Confederate imagery from insensitive public locations.
The Confederacy was formed to defend slavery. There is no disputing that- just examine the reasons for secession put forward by state governments at the time of their withdrawal from the Union. It’s also important to remember that the Confederacy did not represent all Southerners. “The South” cannot be used interchangeably with the Confederacy, and “The North” cannot be used interchangeably with the Union. Four Southern states- Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri- remained in the Union. The majority of South Carolinians and Mississippians were enslaved on the eve of the war, with nearly 50 percent of Louisianans, Alabamians, Georgians, and Floridians being held in bondage at the time. Roughly half of Cherokees and Muskogees, as well as a significant minority of Seminoles, favored the Union. The Cajuns of Southwest Louisiana were, generally speaking, strongly pro-Union. The same can be said of most Appalachian Southerners. I could go on and on. Thousands of Southern men- White, Black, Mixed, and American Indian, fought for the Union. Many more who lived in Confederate states and didn’t join the Union forces remained openly Unionist after secession, risking terroristic reprisals from their neighbors. Again, the Confederacy did not represent all Southerners.
Were there pro-slavery Southern Unionists in both seceding and non-seceding states who remained loyal to Washington after Fort Sumter? Although they were typically less adamantly pro-slavery than their Confederate counterparts, yes. Were there some Confederate military officers that believed the institution would eventually have to be done away with, and supported the Confederacy out of sheer loyalty to their state government- which they saw as the core of their home- rather than the agenda of their state government and the Confederacy? Yes. The fact that such individuals existed in spite of an upbringing in a society that drilled the “virtue” of slavery into them from birth is remarkable, and the White Southern individuals that believed the institution could not morally stand in perpetuity do deserve some honor in the context of their time, and their place in that time. Among these individuals are Robert E. Lee and John Mosby. Confederate veterans who supported the Reconstruction agenda of Ulysses S. Grant and the pro-civil rights Republican Party in the post-war, such as John Mosby himself and James Longstreet, also deserve some respect. While the Chickasaw and Choctaw fought out of a very strong desire to defend slavery, a great deal among the Cherokee, Muskogee, and Seminole Confederates were primarily motivated to support the Confederacy by their belief that they would receive better treatment from Richmond than Washington. These individuals do not, however, absolve the Confederate government of its severely objectionable principal goal.
Moreover, the typical Confederate yeoman enlisted man from the Confederate states fought both out of loyalty to state government and out of racist apprehension over discord he believed would be brought about by emancipation. Confederate soldiers from Southern states that did not secede fought almost entirely out of the desire to defend slavery- or, in especially Unionist areas of non-Confederate Southern states, sadistic contrarianism and bloodlust. Those who had views similar to Lee and Mosby were in the minority.
The Confederacy was a magnet to Yankee pro-slavery zealots, as well. Among these individuals was William Quantrill, who traveled to Missouri to fight a terroristic campaign against the pro-Union population of that state, commanding Missourian and other Southern Confederate partisans such as “Bloody” Bill Anderson, who would later go on to be the commanding officer of the notorious James brothers. There was also the Knights of the Golden Circle, a viciously anti-Black fifth columnist society in the North supportive of the Confederacy.
I won’t deny that both sides-especially their partisan guerrilla factions, but also their regular forces- committed atrocities against both soldiers and civilians, and that both sides had horrendous prison camps. These shortcomings in the conduct of Union forces, while worthy of strong denunciation, still do not absolve the Confederacy of the fact its cause was morally in the wrong.
Some White and American Indian Southerners legitimately believe that the Confederacy didn’t fight for the preservation of the institution of slavery. These individuals defend the insensitive placement of Confederate imagery- though not the veneration of antebellum pro-slavery firebrands- from this position. Unlike the Neo-Confederates, these people are only harmful to society in their ignorance. To be converted to reason, they simply need to be shown evidence that the war was indeed fought over slavery. Thankfully, the number of individuals who believe in the “Lost Cause” narrative has shrunk in number in recent years, with this being attributable to both education of the aforementioned variety on the topic from decent society at large and polemics from the scarily ascendant Neo-Confederates (led by Michael Hill’s League of the South), who celebrate the Confederacy’s efforts to keep people in bondage above all else.
In light of all of these realities it is imperative that, in addition to the removal of Calhoun’s statue from Marion Square into a museum where it can be observed in a completely educational capacity, we move the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia. The state should establish a reconciliation memorial far removed from the Statehouse grounds in the city of Columbia to serve as a site for the respect of South Carolinian soldiers who fought on both sides of the war- Giving the ANV battle flag and state Confederate soldier memorial a decent home and affording South Carolinian Union veterans their first state-sanctioned memorial. There is no issue with people honoring the non-murderous soldiers of the Confederacy so long as they have been educated on the matter and recognize the Confederacy was in the wrong. I have paid plenty of my ancestors respect with this recognition. Like my Unionist Southern ancestors, they are my progenitors and my fellow Southerners. That does not make the cause of the government they fought for right. A feeling of connection and kinship needn’t produce a feeling of tremendous approval.
Confederate symbols only belong in a commemorative capacity at gravesites, battle sites, and discretely in homes and at private institutions, as well as governmental memorials of the variety proposed not adjacent to any other governmental structures or buildings. It also makes sense that Confederate imagery remain on display in a purely educational non-commemorative capacity at museums- history is history.
Again, statues and portraits of antebellum pro-slavery firebrands belong in no context besides in museums in a purely educational “history is history” capacity and to show how far we’ve come. Ideally, no private individuals or institutions would even want to keep them. It would also be sensible for us to eventually rename streets bearing these individuals’ names, including Calhoun Street in Charleston, with sufficient warning given to map companies in advance so as to create as little confusion as possible.
General Lee, General Longstreet, and Colonel Mosby would want things that way. The overwhelming majority of those ignorant of the cause of the Civil War would, too, if they were educated on the topic. The Neo-Confederates don’t.
Again, the Neo-Confederates are concerned with “white racial integrity”, not with protecting and valuing Southern culture.
What culturally distinguishes us from the British Isles-European culture of the North is the influence our natural environment coupled with the fact we are culturally a creole civilization. Southern culture, while of the Western world, cannot be called “European”. Non-rhoticity in Southern English of the lowlands, as well as our English creole languages, is almost certainly primarily the result of West and West-Central African languages-accented pronunciation of the English language mixed with some exposure of the 19th Century Southern aristocracy to the then-relatively new phonology of aristocratic London and "Home Counties" English. Our food is a blatant example of our creole culture, with British, Western (and in Louisiana, Southern) European, Pre-Columbian, and West African ingredients and culinary methods meeting each other. Just take a look at South Carolina Lowcountry rice dishes and compare them to Senegambian rice dishes, or consider Okra Soup. Listen to our music, which is the result of the crossing of Western and West African music styles, along with some separate innovation over the centuries.
We, as the people of our land, are a product of this convergence- it is what it is.
My ancestry goes back on the South Carolina Coastal Plain ten generations to an early settlement of Mid-Atlantic colonists and Welshmen in 1737, and in general the South to early 1600’s colonial and pre-Columbian Virginia- from where and North Carolina many of my ancestors-White, American Indian, and Black- migrated in those formative years of the 18th Century.
I am the descendant of masters and slaves, Tories and Patriots, Confederates and Unionists, Black, White and American Indian, rich and poor. My ancestors made a life in freedom for themselves after their manumission in Virginia, manned Fort Moultrie (surprisingly enough, not at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island) in 1776, got captured at the siege of Charleston, fought under Marion and Greene at Eutaw Springs, endured harassment from Tory neighbors, and endured harassment Patriot neighbors. Decades later, the tragedies of the Civil War that were previously discussed at length took place.
We are all products of these greater events and struggles. We must renounce the evils committed in the past and stand together. We must fight for the welfare of all of our people and land, as well as the respect of us by other constituent peoples of this country and the world.
I have made advocacy for the whole of the South- the protection of our cultures, the advancement of the welfare of our people, and the protection of our environment- the focus of my life. It is a painful love marred by the discord of past generations, as well as that of today, but to my home belongs my heart. If we are going to succeed in the aforementioned struggles, we must bring about the unity of our people, and we must honestly address our problems. I do not advocate the removal of the things mentioned this article in spite of being first and foremost a Southerner- I advocate the removal of these because I am first and foremost a Southerner.
I long for us to be a globally-recognized and respected industrious constituent people of a great country- as the Scots in United Kingdom are or the Québécois in Canada are- , contributing to the progress of the world with knowledge, art, science, and technology, all while retaining our culture in our corner of the mosaic of humanity working together and cooperating. Let us stand together as a unified people- as brethren, as family. The time has come. This is our opportunity.