Peace and Justice in America

Member Discrimination, George Freeman History, Social Justice

When the first calls to take down statues honoring Confederate soldiers were made, the counter view was that these statues represented history.  It was also understood, however, that confederate statues represented pride in the ancestors who fought for their beliefs. How could someone demean the sacrifice of someone else’s grandfather who died in battle?  Why would they want to remove the statue, the symbol of history that had stood for so long?

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Confederate monuments and iconography by year CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

What was left unsaid was the “sacred sacrifice and history” these statues of Confederate soldiers sought to represent. These statues were based on a lie that Confederate states didn’t succeed over slavery, but over “Southern Pride” and other fictions.  They choose to ignore that the astonishing racial prejudice the Confederate Constitution had in its law: “In all such territory, the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress, and by the territorial government: and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories, shall have the right to take to such territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the states or territories of the Confederate states.” In another flagrant example, the president of the confederacy, Jefferson Davis himself says “We recognize the negro as God and God’s Book and God’s Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him. Our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude.“

George Freeman believes confederate statues should be placed in a museum along with these depictions of the lynchings. Let it be known that people had to endure tremendous torture after the Civil War by a portion of the country that had lost the war.

For over a hundred years, Confederate statues have attempted to rewrite history and make the Civil War about Southern Pride. In the name of “honoring our heritage” people have protested the taking down of statues that honor Confederate leaders. Shockingly, what is discarded in such claims is the heritage of slavery. The institutional norms and cultural behavior that came with allowing the legal ownership of one person by another.  We cannot suppress the ugly details involving systematic torture of African Americans. Lynching was often carried out against men of color accused of a crime without trial. The selling of children — hardly the “pride” that people claim these statues are for.  

Criminal defense attorney Bryan Stevenson sees a different path forward. As Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Stevenson is focused on defending the poor and powerless.  Similar to Stevenson, George Freeman grew up in a strong African American, matriarchal household. The matriarch in George’s family was his grandmother, Dora Alice Freeman. Dora saw racial divisions firsthand as a child who grew up in 1880s North Carolina. Dora moved herself and her family to Spokane, Washington in 1904 to escape the level of prejudice the EJI is looking to keep document and memorialize for future generations. She saw these statues rise up in the south as monuments of hate. And in reaction to segregation, disenfranchisement, and agricultural difficulties of the early twentieth century many African Americans like Dora left NC, en masse. As a child George was not only affected by his own history as an African American in the United States, but by the history of his family heritage.

Truth and reconciliation are sequential…we cannot get to where we want to go until we tell the truth first.

Stevenson has taken action to document history at a new museum to remind the world of the ugly details, namely: lynching.  On teaching about lynching Stevenson states, “truth and reconciliation are sequential; cannot get to where we want to go until we tell the truth first”. George Freeman believes confederate statues should be placed in a museum along with these depictions of the lynchings. Let it be known that people had to endure tremendous torture after the Civil War by a portion of the country that had lost the war. These statues represent the horrors at that hands of those who sought to maintain power over the lives of the black people they had once owned.

As for the museum: noted in its mission statement, “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, opening to the public on April 26, 2018, will become the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.

Rather than shame the living ancestry of the south there can be monuments built to serve the public as educational tools. George believes it’s important to strengthens the dialog for these statutes appropriately and set them against the backdrop of their tragic crimes for which they are associated. Such dialog is preventative against a recurrence of similar errors in judgement for the future. The key is to educate, versus celebrate. Rewriting or softening history does a disservice to the lives lost to prejudice. Projects like the National Memorial for Peace and Justice provide an account on the legacy of slavery and the lynchings that followed the Civil War.

It’s the old adage that suggests history is written by the victors, but the Civil War demonstrates that it can be written by the survivors. While the south lost the war, they have clearly won the culture battle that exists to this day in many red states throughout the country.  The stories from the Confederate statues were “these were honorable people just protecting their way of life!” We need to look unflinchingly at how that “way of life” leads to the suffering of millions, and effects that are still being felt today. Not to shame those in the past, but to make sure that our descendants never repeat those mistakes, and instead work to build a better future.

Agree? Then let’s do something, donate today! George wants to give you some ideas to get you started: below is a list of some great people carrying out good work in our Southern states:

Alabama Equal Justice Initiative Museum Donation Link
Florida NAACP, Florida Donation Link
Georgia Support the ACLU of Georgia Donation Link
Louisiana Support NAACP of New Orleans Donation Link
Mississippi Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Donation Link
S. Carolina NAACP of South Carolina Donation Link
Texas The Texas ACLU Donation Link