The battle over Confederate iconography rode into Jefferson last week on a Harley

The Jimplecute was alerted to a hotel situation where members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had a difficult hotel check-in experience. One of their Confederate flags, displayed outside their room, had been removed.

Understandably upset, they were given refunds and about 20 individuals moved up the street to the Inn of Jefferson where, either they, or guests already staying there, requested to run the Confederate flag and the Mechanized Cavalry Brigade flag up the hotel’s flagpoles.

Business owners in downtown Jefferson complimented the SCV visitors over the weekend with positive reviews of their presence. It is true that every visitor to Jefferson should feel welcomed and receive the services and accommodations they have reserved and paid for at the highest quality the business owner can provide.

However, praising Jefferson tourists for exhibiting behavior simply expected from other visitors set off some alarm bells for us. The number of African-American Jeffersonians who refused to speak with us about the SCV visit this week or only did on condition of anonymity set off even more.

Mainstream white supremacy does not wear a name tag or wear white hoods and capes anymore. That would be too anti-social and would not further their cause. Saying you don’t like the SCV because they cherish the Confederate flag and all it stood for, including racism, is also a bit too simplistic.

We asked two former Jeffersonians better qualified than we are for their comments:

“Jefferson has always had this undercurrent of racism that has bubbled beneath the surface, but we never really talk about it for the sake of good ole Southern manners,” Jefferson native Fred Bonner, Ed.D., said.

“It’s a bit of ‘can’t we all just get along,’ ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ‘some of my best friends are Black/White people,’ and ‘I don’t see color.’

“I say all that from a place of authenticity as a Black man who happens to he a Jeffersonian and as a critical race scholar who knows that what is presented is not always what lies beneath.

“I think the SCV absolutely have a right to spend their weekend in Jefferson and be appropriately accommodated; however, I feel that the community and community leaders need to engage in conversations about what a convening like this means for the individual and the collaborative.”

Billy “Bubba” Humphrey, Ph.D., criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University, also weighed in.

“Adolf Hitler was inspired by us. Confederate statues and other symbols are a painful reminder of the dark history in this country. More painful for some than others. We are more tolerant and diverse than ever before in our history, but we are still not where we ought to be.

“In the interest of civility and sensitivity to others, we should remove Confederate symbols. Not to deny our history, but to show in good faith that we are committed to equal protection and opportunities for people of color. It’s the right thing to do.

“We must escape the ideological assumption that suggest some people are better than others because of the color of their skin. A person who denies that we still have opportunities for improvements as it relates to race relations probably does not have the capacity for empathy. An empathetic person understands because even if they are not a minority, they have the ability to imagine what it must feel like to be African American in this country.”

After scores of solicited comments and hours of dialogues with Jeffersonians from all walks of life this weekend, white and black, blue and white collar, college educated and not, financially secure and not, those we knew would agree with us and those we knew would disagree, and days of research about the SCV, this is where we stand.

First, preserving and cherishing the history and heritage of the Confederacy includes two facts:

1) The Confederacy’s vice president, Alexander Stephens, said in his secession speech, “This old thorn of the tariff, which was the cause of so much irritation in the old body politic, is removed forever from the new.” Yet, he also said in the same address about the new Confederate government: “Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

2) The SCV is charged with preserving the heritage of the former Confederate States. “To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish.” (April 25, 1906)

The SCV Mechanized Calvary encourages members on their website to “Ride As You Would With Forrest.” Nathan Bedford Forrest is a celebrated Confederate Army general who was a brilliant military tactician during the Civil War and was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.  At the end of his life, he denounced racism, slavery and the Confederate cause, although that does not seem to be the intent of the SCV phrase.

Also, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy were founded in the 1890s. Different than the KKK and with non-violent methods, they raised private funds to erect statues and monuments glorifying the Confederacy and its beliefs. The “in your face” flaunting of Confederate flags and symbols, however, are fingerprints of an organization that is not entirely non-violent.

And finally, racism is not something one can simply not support. One cannot just be non-racist. Because of the effects of implicit bias and structural racism in our society, one must strive to be completely anti-racist. Nothing less is safe.

For those reasons and to that end, the Jimplecute will not cover the SCV or UDC in our paper after this week. This policy is a work in progress, but the result will be that the pages of the Jimplecute will never be disturbed again with their names or activities.

If large groups of motorcycle enthusiasts want to patronize Jefferson businesses, we encourage them and we look forward to their visit. Every private business in town must do what they can to sustain and grow their business. We do not judge any other business than our own.

Also, as students of history with substantial levels of intellectual curiosity, we do not judge academic discussion of history. In fact, we embrace it. The Jefferson Jimplecute is the newspaper of record for Marion County with some archives stored at the Library of Congress. Our business aims are to accurately report news, often referred to as the “first rough draft of history,” and editorialize events in order to put them in context based on our experience.  Our aims are different than a retail or hospitality business.

The year is 2019, 154 years after Confederate States of America were defeated. Groups enthusiastically advocating the preservation of their heritage through a plumb line to a segment of the Union that openly stated that white people were superior to Negroes are not acceptable and belong in the “dustbin of history.”

As such, and on our watch, we will put as much distance between our paper and them as we can.

 

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