America needs to decide how to move ahead

Jack Jackson

Columnist

One has to search way back in the archives of our nation to find a period of time to compare with the sheer amount of "stuff" going on in our country right now!

People who chronicle and write about the life and times of our nation have a plethora of information and misinformation to draw upon. As a student of history, and in particular, southern history, the current raging debate over statues and monuments certainly has my attention.

Admittedly, the American Civil War was the bloodiest and most divisive occurrence in our history. This war was fought primarily over the issue of slavery and whether the institution itself could function as part of the Union. The southern United States depended on slavery -- cheap labor -- to sustain its agrarian way of life. But, the North, far less dependent on slavery, was quite sensitive to the practice of enslaving human beings.

A nation divided couldn't effectively exist, so war became inevitable to settle things one way or another. Men who had been comrades in arms fighting against our nation's common enemies found themselves dealing with divided loyalties based on geography.

Much was at stake, not the least of which were different ways of life which would shape attitudes and customs to this very day. Choices were made and the "die was cast," causing a cloud to cover all of us, creating a "stain" every American must deal with, hopefully, with civility.

The lines were deeply drawn between "Yankees" and "Rebels," often pitting brother against brother, family against family, bringing about competing social orders. Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant emerged as "champions" of the northern victory. General Robert E. Lee, Virginia's favorite son, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis along with a collection of well-known southern generals were revered and loved by southerners.

Americans, not unlike other cultures, wanted to forever honor those who gallantly sacrificed life and limb for their causes. So statues and monuments were erected on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

For generations, most African-Americans didn't give much thought to Confederate symbolism in the form of statues and monuments in our midst. I had heard the southern anthem, "Dixie," sung long before I arrived on Eastern Kentucky University's campus. But it wasn't until I attended my first football game at old Hanger Field in 1961 that I became aware of the passion and pride associated with the song.

As I sat there with two other Black students, we were moved by the euphoria and excitement coming from white students surrounding us that afternoon.

Admittedly, the longer I lived on campus, making friends, going to and from classes, I merged into campus life and found myself patting my feet and clapping my hands to the music and lyrics of "Dixie" at sporting events at Eastern and other campuses in the OVC like everyone else.

Imagine that!

The venerable old southern anthem has long since disappeared from the college campus scene because latter generations of African-Americans found the lyrics to be offensive, remining them of a distasteful and oppressive era in our nation's history.

As the statues/monuments debate rages on, highly political and racially charged, I envision less consternation as time goes by. Latter generations of Americans, Black and white, are not as "passionate" or consumed by many aspects of the past, including Confederate history and symbolism.

They're just not that interested!

So if we need to remove statues and monuments from the broader public view and relocate them to parks, estates, even backyards -- let's get on with it.

Too much is hanging in the balance to hang the national hat on sentiment and nostalgia.

We've come to a point of urgency in this country, a point of deciding whether or not we're looking to move ahead as a united democracy or a collection of weak subgroups ill prepared to deal with the inevitable challenges of a world power.

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