from Prairie Lotus
by Linda Sue Park
Clarion Books/HoughtonMifflinHarcourt, 2020
When I was a high school Sophomore or maybe Junior, I had an extra Study Hall. My American History teacher wanted a volunteer. It sounded like a match to me, so I went for it. My assignment each day was to scan his several year’s worth of Congressional Records for any interesting bit of business and mark the article with a red pen.
Apparently, he hadn’t been keeping up and thought I’d be able to help him streamline his backlog.
The Record is published online (and on iTunes) now, but all those years ago, it was published each day on newsprint, bound with staples down the center, and mailed to anyone who paid for a subscription. The Daily Digest at the back of each issue recorded the day’s business. Most of the time I determined not much happened and my red BIC stayed unclicked. This would have been 1969 or 1970, and I was a 16-year-old girl with my own drama.
I don’t know if he ever got to my stacks of marked up issues lined up on his window sills.
Some kids said Mr. Perme was a member of the John Birch Society. He wore an American flag in his lapel. To me, that meant he loved his country, however he chose to express it.
But I took my concern home and asked my mom what the kids meant. She had a vague answer that I’m not sure either of us understood. The gist was, if he wore a flag and the school let him teach, it was probably okay, even if he was a bigot. My dad wanted me to go back to Study Hall.
That time, I listened to my mom.
It must be the current current events that tossed me back to high school. In our studies of the Civil War, Mr. Perme taught us the War was not about slavery. It was about States’ Rights. Slavery was just incidental. He made a case for that, but still.
The mid-nineteenth century was a time much like our own, fraught with disharmony, disunity, unfocused anger, and fear. Owners of enslaved people (mostly) needed to assure themselves they were protecting their homes and their families. They decided the best way to do that was to break away from the United States and start a new country with new laws allowing slavery, with all its insidious beliefs and inhumanity intact.
Even before the war was over, Abraham Lincoln signed an Executive Order, the Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves. . . shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free[.]” It goes on to say that the military “will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” Sounds pretty clear to me.
The South lost the war.
So why are over 700 monuments to Confederate leaders and over 700 pieces of insignia including the Confederate flag displayed on Courthouse grounds and city squares and public parks throughout more than 31 states and Washington D.C.? “All were there to teach values to people,” according to Mark Elliot, a history professor at University of North Carolina, Greensboro. They stood for a “glorification of the cause of the Civil War.” They stood for the glorification of slavery. And they did not even begin to appear until many years after the end of the Civil War, during the heights of civil unrest, in the first quarter of and during middle of the twentieth century.
Eleven states formed the Confederacy. Thirty-one chose to display its insignia.
The South lost the Civil War. Their battle flag should not fly over any part of the United States of America.
Their leaders lost the War. They should not be looking over public property belonging to the people of the United States. The Confederacy should be treated as a foreign power that lost its war. Military installations should not be named for leaders of that same foreign power. The men they are named for are traitors who waged war against the United States, and lost.
This Friday is Juneteenth. On June 19, 1865, federal troops marched into Galveston, TX, “to take control of the state and to ensure enslaved people be freed.” https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth The news in Galveston was two and a half years overdue, but Juneteenth has been celebrated ever since.
Current military leaders are beginning to speak out. Just today, General Robert Abrams, commander of the troops in South Korea, banned the display of the Confederate flag from all Army installations there. (Heather Cox Richardson from her “Letters from an American” newsletter, 6/15/2020) Regular people are beginning to talk about it. Heck, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag!
White supremacy cannot be allowed to outlive the current news cycle.
I hope the history we’re making and witnessing is the beginning of a move toward “liberty and justice for all.”
-—stay curious! (and love your neighbor)