My Belated Intro to Richmond’s Civil War Past

July 14, 2015

By Karen

Until recently, most of my Civil War knowledge came from Gone With the Wind.

Since moving to Richmond, Virginia, in 1972 and watching this city nurse a chip on its shoulder over the “Lost Cause,” I just assumed Richmond somehow suffered similarly to Atlanta during Sherman’s march to the sea, although I knew Sherman never laid a paw on Richmond.

As it turned out, no Northern army ever invaded Richmond, although it was the capital of the Confederacy and a prime target. However, battles were fought all around it.

My ignorance in this seems incredible, I know, but I went to school up North, and the Civil War was a chapter in American history. Down here, I’m told it’s a whole high school year’s curriculum.

Since 2015 marks 150 years since war’s end, Richmond has reveled in it yet again — until the Charleston massacre and its aftermath brought everybody up short.

The daily Richmond Times-Dispatch, which was in overdrive publishing Civil War dispatches and articles to avoid the real work of covering current events, opened my eyes on Richmond’s past, and it was jaw-dropping in light of the decades of pouty “Yankee Go Home!” attitude I’ve seen.

Picture this

Early April 1865 and the Union Army was attacking Petersburg, south of Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, when the Confederate Army faced the fact that it couldn’t defend Richmond.

President Jefferson Davis lammed off to Danville, deserting his mansion for U.S. Major General Godfrey Weitzel to use as HQ when he arrived. During his stay, Weitzel found in a desk a letter to Davis from General Robert E. Lee dated October 1864, containing the news flash that the cause was lost and they should make the best terms they could. But Davis sat on that intel and let the killing continue.

Before abandoning Richmond, Confederate soldiers broke open all the liquor and either poured it into the streets or drank it, then they set fire to warehouses holding munitions and tobacco so the Yankees couldn’t have them, and looting broke out.

The fires quickly raged beyond control and began consuming most of the downtown business district while the rebel soldiers marched away, leaving the civilians defenseless and in utter chaos and confusion.

When Gen. Weitzel and his men rode into Richmond, which no Yankee army had yet laid a finger on, it was being rocked by explosions, burning to the ground, and ransacked — by its own inhabitants.

The Union Army quickly distinguished the blazes, restored order, and began distributing food and tending to those in need.

And here’s the most ironic twist: Robert E. Lee had a brick residence downtown, near the fire zone, where he’d left his daughter and invalid wife. Unable to evacuate, they introduced themselves to the Union soldiers, who posted guards and kept an ambulance on standby for Mrs. Lee. General Lee was able to return to his unburned home after his surrender at Appomattox a week later, thanks to the Yankees.

Gen. Weitzel later wrote his memories of all this, stating that the people of Richmond (especially the blacks) were so thrilled by his army’s arrival that they kissed his soldiers and their horses.

Two days later, Abraham Lincoln himself came to assess the damage. Lincoln showed great compassion and mercy, and the future looked promising. That lasted less than two weeks, when an actor and Southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth, who’d spent some time performing in Richmond, assassinated Lincoln.

Resentment, spite, and racism have been allowed to flourish in the South ever since, and statues of defeated Civil War players are everywhere. It took the killing of nine innocent black people by an ignorant little white bigot wrapped in a Confederate flag to get the rest of the country to finally do a double-take at the South’s festering obsession and the latent racism that usually goes with it.

By all reports, many Southerners seem to be accepting that the Cause was wrong, the South lost, it’s part of the United States again, and it’s time to move on. And a good first step is to pull down that divisive flag that has become America’s Swastika.

In Virginia, we’re getting the Confederate flag off a few license plates, but a huge one still proudly waves beside Interstate 95, on private property, to signal that not everyone is welcome here yet.

Advertisements

Speaking of the Arthur Ashe Statue…

July 4, 2015

By Cole

Karen’s probably somewhere shooting off fireworks for the 4th, so I’ll fill you in on the latest with Arthur Ashe.

On Thursday as Karen was typing her previous post, somewhere in Richmond, Doug Wilder, a former Richmond mayor and Virginia governor (the first black man ever to be elected a governor in the U.S., no less), was tweeting about the weeds growing around the weird Arthur Ashe statue.

All the other Monument Avenue statues of Confederate generals are pristine. How quintessentially Richmond.

The Ashe statue was erected before my time in 1996, but I can just hear its staunch opponents when they finally gave in to letting a black man, a mere tennis player, stand among their Confederate generals.

“OK, fine. You can put your silly old statue on Monument Avenue. Just don’t be expecting us to keep it dusted and polished!”

Wilder’s tweets hit the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Friday morning, and by day’s end, the city had cleaned up around Arthur Ashe.

Without Confederate flag kerfuffle putting the spotlight on the South right now, I have no doubt Wilder’s tweets would have been dismissed as sour grapes. Those weeds didn’t grow overnight. If the powers that be had any respect for the Ashe statue, it would have been maintained along with all the others. But better late than never.

Meanwhile, in another part of town…

I learned there’s yet another big Confederate monument. It honors Soldiers and Sailors and stands in Libby Hill Park. Thursday or early Friday, some fool scrawled in red spray paint what might be the word “cracker” and the initials “RBGz” with an up-arrow beside it.

Let’s not get into what this illegible, wit-free gibberish says about the quality of a Richmond education.

“Cracker” may be a reference to Southern white racists but, according to the Times-Dispatch, “RBG” could refer to a rap album, a Pan-African flag, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I’m going with “Rebel Billy Goats” or “Really Bad Grafitti.”

So far, this bit of vandalism has no suspects, so at least they got their getaway right.


Lose the Confederate Flag, Keep the Statues

July 2, 2015

By Karen

I moved to Richmond, Virginia, from the North 43 years ago this month, and it only recently hit me that I’ve been here nearly one-third of the time the Civil War has been over, and I’ve been reminded of it nearly every blessed day and resented it every time.

After the Charleston shootings, words can’t describe how thrilled I was to see some Southern states begin rethinking the preservation of their blockheaded “heritage” and getting with the 21st century.

In Alabama, without asking anybody’s permission, the Republican governor ordered four Confederate flags removed from the statehouse grounds. Amazing!

In VIRGINIA, our Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, ordered Confederate flag license plate issued only to the Sons of Confederate Veterans discontinued and all such plates in use (1,600) replaced. Hallelujah!

The plates were a small gesture, yet the SCV have vowed to fight it — even after the exact case in Texas recently went to the Supreme Court and LOST. (That old, “The South shall rise again!” mentality.)

OK, the flag once stood for the Glorious Cause, but the SCV refuse to acknowledge it’s been hijacked by racists, and racism is what it stands squarely for today.

Some Southerners are wringing their hands over the flag, saying it’s a slippery slope, and what comes down next?

Richmond has a big statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, on Monument Avenue (more on that in a sec) that just got defaced twice. One guy spray-painted an “L” on it to signify “Loser” (which was pretty “Lame”). Someone else painted “Black Lives Matter.”

Monument Avenue is a beautiful tree-lined boulevard with a wide green median, lined with lavish, historic homes and dotted with impressive statues of prominent Civil War figures like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on horseback.

It also has one odd, puny statue of black Richmond native and tennis great, Arthur Ashe, who’s posed as if lobbing a book to a bunch of sawed-off kids. Trust me, getting him on Monument Avenue caused everyone no end of angst.

Anyway, people are worried these statues will get torn down à la Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

If that happens, are statues of slave owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson safe?

I’d say the distinction is that the statues haven’t been embraced as racist symbols. They’re of people who played key roles in significant events in our past.

Let’s leave the statues of major historical figures alone. They don’t bother anybody, and in most cases they’re works of art that attract tourists and may be a comfort to some.

But statues and busts of relatively minor figures, like Nathan Bedford Forrest who helped start the KKK, belong in museums as curiosities.

Even though all the funerals in Charleston are over, I hope the South keeps progressing toward accepting that the United States is one country again, founded on the principle that all men are created equal — in spite our many, many lapses and some people’s lingering refusal to face it.


The South Finally Gets Real

June 23, 2015

By Cole

In my nine lives, I never thought I’d see the South accept the fact that the Civil War is over, that most of us are sick of hearing about it already, and that the Confederate flag has become nothing but the American Swastika.

It must be a real punch in the gut to Dylann Roof to see that massacring nine innocent black strangers didn’t start a new race war, but gave blacks and whites reason to bond. And that bonding comes thanks to the victims’ families, who displayed superhuman grace and forgiveness when they were asked to tell Roof what they think of him.

Their utter refusal to take his hate-bait freed whites to finally admit that their obsolete flag belongs in a museum — not atop or near any government building that purports to represent all citizens.

Hot as it is around here, we’ve now got a snowball rolling downhill. Mississippi is thinking twice about the Confederate stars and bars in its state flag. Tennessee may remove a bust of Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from its statehouse.

Even Walmart is pulling all Confederate-themed merchandise from its shelves. Let’s hope other retail chains follow. If racist punks with an imaginary axe to grind want to rock that rebel look, let them sew it or draw it themselves.

May this phenomenal progress continue until mentioning the Civil War in a way that implies it was anything but a horrible, embarrassing mistake labels the speaker an ignorant bigot.

Certainly, the South can keep laying flowers on the graves of its Confederate dead. It can even admire the bravery of those who gave their lives. But it can also have the decency to admit they died in a self-serving attempt to continue degrading and exploiting people who had done nothing to deserve such treatment, and any claim to the contrary is just revisionist thinking.

It’s time for the South to free itself from the shackles of its history so everyone can feel welcome here — even Karen.

 


How the South Can Help End the Madness

June 19, 2015

By Karen

I’ve read conflicting reports, so I’m unsure if Dylann Storm Roof legally bought a Glock with birthday money, or used a 45-caliber pistol his father gave him for his 21st birthday (because every unemployed 9th-grade dropout needs fire power, right?).

Either way, Roof shot and killed 9 total strangers at a bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, simply because they were black and Roof thinks he’s better than them.

What immediately followed were more futile pleas for strict gun control, a no-brainer in every other country. Unfortunately, we let the puniest-brained among us control that issue, and they love our reputation as the world’s most senselessly violent society.

Meanwhile, there’s one facet of this whole racist-serial-killer problem that might be easily rectified if anyone had the balls to mention it.

Today on CBS This Morning, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley said this country needs to have a conversation about race.

Well, DUH. Hasn’t she noticed we’ve been having that conversation since an almost-daily event has become white police officers killing defenseless black people (even in Charleston)?

What we really need is an intervention. Someone needs to tell the South to shut up about the Civil War. Instead of perpetually keeping it front and center, let’s finally bury it so future generations of clueless punks will have to do some research to fuel their baseless bigotry.

Roof grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, which proudly flies the Confederate flag. Roof has that flag on his “Confederate States of America” license plate.

I’m a New Englander who has lived in Virginia for 43 years, well over half my life. But I will never, EVER identify as a Southerner because I refuse any association whatsoever with the Civil War.

Yet Virginia marinates in it because Richmond was once the capital of the Confederacy. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union, and it got the war rolling with the first battle at Fort Sumter.

If South Carolina is anything like Virginia, it has preserved battlefields so lame-brained re-enactors can refight the old fights, secretly hoping they’ll have a different outcome and “the South shall rise again!”

You can’t swing a cat in Richmond without hitting a statue of some defeated Southern general. The Richmond Times-Dispatch manages to dredge up late-breaking Civil War “news” most days. And it recently ended an interminable reprinting of ancient daily war-time dispatches to commemorate the war’s 150th anniversary, or some such bullshit.

I do my best to ignore every bit of it.

The South persists in nurturing this delusion that there was something noble about the Civil War. It’s as abhorrent to anybody else as if Germans waxed nostalgic about how wonderful it was to be Nazis.

In both cases, an entire race was ritually abused and died in unimaginable circumstances at the hands of another race that believed itself superior. In both cases, the oppressors were white.

Glorifying the Civil War accomplishes nothing but to sow seeds of racism and blind hatred so they take root in empty minds like Dylann Roof’s.

The Civil War had no justification. Period. Nobody was ever born to become somebody else’s labor-saving appliance.

Until the South lets go of its bizarre need to paint the Civil War as “the good old days” and sincerely acknowledges the equality of blacks and all human souls, it will continue to spawn racist killers.


Is Paula Deen a Racist?

June 24, 2013

By Karen

Paula Deen’s upbringing finally caught up with her. In a deposition for a $1.2 million lawsuit filed against her and her brother Bubba for creating a hostile work environment at their restaurant, Paula answered yes, “of course,” she had used the N-word in the past, as if to say, “Well, hasn’t everybody?”

Paula’s career is built on being a proud product of the South, parts of which are still butt-hurt over the Civil War. Being compelled to stop owning what they lovingly called “N-words” still rankles. And with good reason.

TODAY’s Richmond Times-Dispatch published 3 articles with “Civil War” in the headline. In fact, one of them is a DAILY feature that re-reports the Confederacy’s glory days.

But all bigots aren’t Southerners. My Italian grandmother, who spent her life in Massachusetts (and later years in Florida), always called blacks the N-word. She also hated the French and Jews, although I seriously doubt she ever knew any of them in any meaningful way.

She must have picked up all that racist bullshit from her parents. Just like Paula Deen probably did.

Back in 1972 when I moved to Virginia, I worked at J.C. Penney’s. Forty years later, I still vividly recall a white-haired Paula Deen type who, upon seeing a cute young white girl come up the escalator with a black boy, turned and whispered to me, “I’d like to push her right down those stairs!”

Over the years, black men have asked me for dates a few times, but I always turned them down. It’s just safer. I don’t want anybody feeling tempted to push me down an escalator.

So now Food Network isn’t renewing Deen’s contract, and her advertisers are having second thoughts.

Where was all this outrage after we found out Paula was flat-out trying to kill people with recipes SHE, as a closet diabetic, knew could be lethal?

All these entities turning on Paula now should be ashamed of their belated shock. Anyone can take one look at Deen and her whole redneck family and see you probably don’t have to scratch deep to find some festering Southern ugliness.

But I don’t think Deen would ever choose to be a racist. She’s been conditioned by her culture.

Paula reminds us all that, in spite electing a black president TWICE, racism still thrives. Republicans out to sink Obama no matter what the consequences for the country, and Deen’s loyal fans who are screaming, “What’s the big deal? Bring Paula back!” are just further proof of it.

This country can’t be cleansed for at least a few more generations, and only then if our leaders and people who should know better stop spewing mindless poison.

A few weeks ago, a Southern friend told me how a drunk woman in a bar hit on my friend’s husband, assaulted my friend, and then got herself arrested.

My friend called the woman the N-word.

Later in the conversation, my friend was incredulous when I mentioned I’d worked on Obama’s campaign. Yet she couldn’t give me any good reason she preferred Romney (other than, I suspect, his color).

This was a side of her I’d never really seen before — in 30+ years. But it’s there.

We all have it, to some degree, I’m sad to say. I bet there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t at some point avoided someone “other-looking” because that stranger made them uncomfortable.

Right now, George Zimmerman is on trial in Florida for killing a black teenager named Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s defense team has been dredging up dirt from Trayvon’s life to make the case that Trayvon needed killing for something. That way, Zimmerman’s a hero, not a gun-toting weirdo trolling for trouble.

This is how racism thrives.

BONUS: Watch Paula’s attempts to muster a sincere apology to her fans.


%d bloggers like this: