Let’s talk of history, heritage


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Post and Courier of March 8 included Sen. Glenn McConnell’s expression of disappointment that I oppose a monument honoring South Carolina’s signers of the 1860 Ordinance of Secession being placed at the Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum. He suggested that my real agenda was more about modern politics than history, alleging that I ‘bitterly criticized’ Sen. Robert Ford and Rep. Tim Scott for endorsing the proposed monument and that my true motive was to label Sen. Ford and Rep. Scott as ‘traitors who somehow deserted a cause they should be serving.’

While I acknowledge Sen. McConnell’s legendary legislative acumen, his mind-reading skills leave much to be desired. I simply argued in my column that those who seceded from the Union, established a separate nation and waged war against the United States should not be honored in a place set aside to recognize American patriots. I noted the support of Sen. Ford and Rep. Scott for the monument by repeating what was first reported in a Post and Courier article of February 12. Sen. McConnell offered no condemnation of that initial article, but instead used one sentence from my 700-word column to discern what he erroneously labels as my "real" intent.

What Sen. McConnell apparently missed while noting my "bitterness" is that I oppose the placement of the monument at Patriot’s Point. If the monument were placed in a more appropriate locale — like Breach Inlet on Sullivan’s Island, where the CSS Hunley departed for her final voyage — I would not object, for that’s a reasonable historical context. My only other point of concern would have been if the monument was to be funded by tax dollars, but it’s to be funded by private donations. I respect the right of those who embrace their Confederate heritage to do so in that manner, especially at their places of business.

I agree with Sen. McConnell’s view that the issue of secession and the resulting Civil War are fascinating elements in our state’s history. We probably part ways, however, on the difference between history, which revolves around the complete and objective facts related to past occurrences, and heritage, which involves a fond embrace of those facts and of those who played a role in making history. I acknowledge and am fascinated by the history of the Civil War, but I cannot embrace the heritage cherished by those whose ancestors turned their backs on the United States of America.

The post-Civil War healing noted by Sen. McConnell in his column is also a matter of historical fact, but it should not be viewed through the subjective and sometimes overly charitable lens of heritage.

No Southerner was ever convicted of treason or secession since the victors focused on reconciliation instead of retribution, and the extraordinary kindness extended to Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon and the Army of Northern Virginia by Union Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at the Appomattox Courthouse surrender is a stirring example of mutual respect among valiant warriors.

History, however, also includes Confederate Gen. Henry Wise’s words to Gen. Chamberlain at Appomattox Courthouse: "You may forgive us, sir, but we won’t be forgiven. There is a rancor in our hearts which you little dream of. We hate you, sir." Gen. Wise’s perspective, as well as that of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and the other founders of the Ku Klux Klan are also parts of that history. True progress comes when that history is objectively explored, old wounds are discussed and their impact on America’s present social climate are noted. That’s a matter not of bitterness, but of honest and constructive appraisal that leads to progress.

I’d be pleased to discuss the possibilities for that mutual appraisal with Sen. McConnell. I invite him and others who share his view — including Sen. Ford, Rep. Scott and the Sons of Confederate Veterans — to meet with the leadership of the Charleston Branch, NAACP, to discuss our points of disagreement and the things that bind us together as South Carolinians and Americans. Honest exploration and frank dialogue might lead to new understanding and mutual respect, for the same Jesus Sen. McConnell accurately quoted as saying, "blessed are the peacemakers" also said, "the truth shall make you free."

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