Jim Terry: Down with the old, up with the New South


Jim Terry



It was years ago when I happily landed my first gig through the CETA federal summer jobs program. But my enthusiasm soon faded when one of our first tasks had been to go to the Lowndes County Courthouse and clear brush overgrowing the old monument standing on the front lawn. I will never forget the loathing I felt when I looked upon that stone relic of Southern defiance. But I had to suck it up and tolerate it, the way my forefathers had to tolerate this and other such indignities all their lives.


A local politico has asked the question, "Why is this (confederate monuments) still an issue? After all, we haven't had slavery in the United States for 150 years." He goes on to suggest that something must be inherently wrong with black folks because blacks are, "the only ones that are having problems."


Yes, we are, by and large, the only ones having problems, but not in the way that Supervisor Harry Sanders reckons. Whereas every other race on earth at one time or the other has suffered at the hands of the white man (soon tribes of races have even gone extinct) no people has suffered more grotesquely than the black race. In America, the worst hounds of hell have been loosed upon black folk. To say otherwise is simply blind and willful ignorance. Langston Hughes put it thus: "I who am black would love the South, but she spits in my face ... the South with blood on its mouth."



And slaves didn't have it as good as Mr. Sanders might imagine. He even says, "The slaves didn't have to do anything!" when under pain of floggings, or worse, slaves toiling days and nights had to fulfill quotas for a day's work. And what do you think they did to a slave who didn't meet his quota, or had gotten too old to work, or too infirm? What about the persistent passed-down stories of rape and forced breeding that went on at so many backwater plantations, which is why more than others the black race is so overcome of mulattoes, quadroons, and octaroons of every stripe. And how does one kidnap a people from their mother country, enslave them until they die and ask with the expectations of receiving an honest answer, "Ain't you got it good?"


To say that this campaign of erection of statues and the naming of streets, roads, bridges, schools, and great institutions after such as those who would destroy their own nation through treasonous armed rebellion suffers no consequences is like saying that advertising doesn't work. Who can deny the power of symbols, particularly these symbols?


At every Southern courthouse stands an unrepentant Confederate sentinel forever frozen in stone, chest forward, his back turned against the North, wary for battle. There are so many streets, counties, towns, and military bases named for Confederates who fomented then conducted the bloodiest war in the history of the Western hemisphere, all in the name of a "lost cause" that fondly broods in the Southern heart to this day. It is a cherished notion they are not willing to let go. If they did so, what would it say about their beloved Confederate ancestors and "The Cause"? But then, what would it say of their own civilities ... and what would it say about black folk?


There is a terrible price to be paid for those who convince themselves that they can project reason where there is entrenched recalcitrance borne of romantic pinnings. They will never understand that these monuments are still an issue because they have made them still an issue by erecting them in the first place and maintaining them in the face of the whirlwinds of change. For those, it is not the monuments but rather the Negro who remains the problem. I think of a powerful song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's dramatic Broadway hit, Les Miserables:


Look down! Look down!


You'll always be a slave!


Look down! Look down!


You're standing in your grave!




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