Special to the PRESS
This past weekend I was dancing at the Isla Grand from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and then was asked to leave by a manager because I didn’t purchase any alcoholic beverages. I do not drink alcohol. Prior to this, I ate two different days at the buffet in the Isla Grand.
I went to see Passion band; they are my friends and they are from Wisconsin, also. I also asked if eating at the buffet doesn’t count, he would not answer, so then I left.
Over the past several months there has been a lot of controversy about public displays of the Confederate flag and other monuments to the Confederacy, including school names. The monument to Jefferson Davis at Washington Park in Brownsville is close to home. This monument has generated several published expressions of opinion, both for and against its removal. I stand firmly in favor of placing these monuments in museums and out of view of the general public. Why would anyone support symbols of oppression? There is no similar movement to display swastikas.
Some people argue that Confederate symbols are strictly to honor their history, their heritage, or their ancestors. A person should actually know history if they are going to use a historical argument. There were three periods in US history when most Confederate monuments were erected. What these periods had in common is that they were times of progressive social change that reactionaries opposed. The first one was in the 1920s when a lot of African-Americans migrated out of the South to the North. Reactionaries had to start seeing African-Americans more frequently and they were afraid that they would join unions and align with progressives generally. There was a huge increase in Ku Klux Klan membership at that time. This was the period the monument in which the Washington Park monument was erected and there is a rest stop on Hwy 77 after Victoria, Texas was originally erected to honor Jefferson Davis as well. The second period of monument erection and flag displays for the Confederacy was during the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. Again reactionaries and racists feared that their way of life was under attack. The third period was after Obama’s election for the same reasons.
There are a number of people, including “intellectuals” who have published books that argue the Civil War was about “states rights” or “Yankee imperialism and aggression,” All we need to do is look at what the Confederate States Constitution says about slavery to see that the Confederacy was all about slavery. Article 1, Section 9 prohibits the Confederate government from restricting slavery in any way. Article IV, Section 2 says the right of property in slaves shall not be impaired. Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3 prohibits the government of the Confederacy from outlawing or restricting slavery in any new territory that the Confederate States might acquire.
I am an old Southern white man and was raised in that culture and there are any number of things that I like about that culture. Most Southerners are very friendly on a personal basis. I love hunting, fishing, and hanging out around bonfires with my friends. I like Southern food and drinks. There are a whole legion of Southerners that I admire. Many of them I can identify with because they had the ability to change. When I was in high school, I sometimes wore Confederate or belt buckles. When I learned more, I opposed the Confederacy. So did my heroes.
One of the most heroic individuals to oppose the Confederacy was Newton (Newt) Knight who deserted from the Confederate army and led a guerrilla movement that established The Free State of Jones in northern Mississippi. One of the reasons that he deserted was that the state of Mississippi had a “twenty ‘Negro’ law” that stated if a man owned twenty slaves, he was exempt from military service, if he owned another twenty his eldest son was also exempt and so on. One of Knight’s comrades coined the phrase, “This is a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” Knight was able overthrow the Confederate government in his home base of Jones County and it never fell to the Confederacy. Knight was never captured and many Confederates, including high ranking officers, were killed trying to do so. The Klan was never able to lay a finger on him. He married a fellow guerrilla, a former slave named Rachael, even though it was against Mississippi law and had several children and many grandchildren from that marriage. Mississippi was never to dissolve his marriage. When asked if he wasn’t afraid of the Klan, Knight stated, “There are a thousand better ways to die than be scared to death.” He lived to be almost ninety and was buried next to his wife Rachael which violated another Mississippi law. A movie is coming out this summer called, “The Free State of Jones” and everyone should see it.
Other and better known Southerners worked for Reconstruction after the Civil War. General James Longstreet joined the Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, and commanded an integrated New Orleans police force after the Civil War ended. He campaigned for Ulysses Grant. He was a leader of African-American militias in Virginia and Louisiana and defeated the Crescent City White League in New Orleans at the battle of Liberty Place in 1874. Colonel John Mosby “The Grey Ghost” always disapproved of slavery. After the Civil War he also joined the Republican Party and was the campaign manager for Grant in Virginia. Another Virginian was an underground abolitionist, Elizabeth Van Lew. She headed a spy network for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Close to home in Texas, Sam Houston was always opposed to succession and resigned from the governorship of Texas when the state voted to leave the Union. Albert Parsons was a scout for the Confederacy who became active with his mixed race wife, Lucinda, after the Civil War in the labor rights movement. He was one of the Haymarket Riot martyrs. His brother, Colonel William Parsons supported Lucinda’s activities after Albert’s death and served as her body guard and escort.
My great-grandfather, Moses Franklin Birdwell (Frank) Birdwell is not known at all. Before the Civil War he was a slave transporter. He enlisted in the Union Army even though his brothers supported the Confederacy. They were on good terms after the war ended, but I have always thought it was a courageous thing to do to be able to oppose his family and do what was right in spite of his background.
I remember a group from the late 1960s and early 1970s that was based in Chicago and whose members were rural Southerners. They called themselves the Patriot Party and published a newspaper called “The Southern Patriot.” They were aligned with groups that were involved in empowering African-Americans.
There is plenty in our Southern heritage to be proud of without aligning ourselves with reactionaries and racists. I consider myself a part of a progressive Southern tradition and am proud to be so. As the song says, “What Are You Going To Do With Good Old Boys Like Me?”
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