Hanging on the wall of my study at home is a print of Tom Lovell's The Surrender at Appomattox. At times I've hung it in my college office and even my church office. It pictures Robert E. Lee signing the surrender document essentially ending the Civil War. In later years, after Lee's death a movement was born known as "The Lost Cause." It was born out of an attempt to reframe the history of the Civil War away from slavery to states rights. It was also a response to attempts by African Americans to claim rights granted to them by the Constitution, rights that were often denied through Jim Crow laws. It was during the early 20th century and then again during the era of the Civil Rights Movement that statues were erected lionizing Confederate leaders such as Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Those statues and monuments, many of which stand at the center of city parks or along boulevards around the country are not meant just to honor long dead leaders, but to send a message. That message is simply one of white superiority. That the "Unite the Right" rally was held in a park where the local leaders planned to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee was also meant to send a message. People of color, Jews, Muslims, people who don't fit the vision of a white dominated America need to remember their place.
I'm posting this picture because it serves as a reminder that the cause for which the Confederacy was born, for which Robert E. Lee and others fought, lost the war. Yes, Robert E. Lee was a Christian and maybe even a good man, but he was a flawed man who embraced slavery and fought for its preservation. Prior to the moment of surrender, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the south. After the war ended, during the period of Reconstruction, a time when for a short period African Americans not only got the vote in the South, but gained leadership positions in government, including Congress. It didn't last, but for a moment steps were taken to equalize things. It was during this period that the 13th through 15th Amendments to the Constitution were drafted and approved by the necessary two-thirds majority of states.
- The 13th Amendment, passed in December 1865, banned slavery forever in this country.
- The 14th Amendment, (1868) which has been under attack recently, spells out the rights of citizenship, among other things, including paying war debts, and laying out congressional representation. The key for us is the opening section, which reads:
- All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
- Finally, the 15th Amendment (1870)granted voting rights to people of all races, and granted Congress the authority to enforce this right. Unfortunately, it required the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to give some teeth to this amendment, teeth that the Supreme Court has weakened (requiring the passage of a new Voting Rights Act).
Some amongst us still want to re-fight and re-litigate the Civil War. That cause lost. It lost militarily and it lost morally. That is not to say that the Union forces were all that moral, or that the leaders who remained loyal didn't harbor some similar views of African Americans as their Confederate opponents, but in the end the cause lost, and we are better for it.
What happened in Charlottesville this past weekend should serve as a clarion call, as should be true of Charleston, that white nationalism, white supremacy, neo-nazism, are repugnent forces to which we as a nation must say no. As a Christian, and follower of Jesus, I am especially compelled to say no. Removing statues that were erected during the early 20th century to send a message of white supremacy through lionizing the Confederacy, is not erasing history, it is instead a recognition of the facts of history. The Lost Cause lost and now must be placed in museums rather than in the center of parks where heroes are lionized.