A note of the above image: This photo was taken during the removal of the General P. G. T. Beauregard’s statue in New Orleans. I would like to point out that the granite base below the statue was mined from Stone Mountain which became the birthplace of the modern kkk in 1915, the same year that this monument was erected. The pedestal was removed several months after the statue.
The week before last, a friend recommended a podcast to me called Memory Palaces. The next evening I listened to it while cooking dinner. The very first episode was a beautifully narrated tale of an imagined plaque to replace a bronze statue in downtown Memphis, Tennessee of Nathan Bedford Forrest, confederate general and founder of the kkk. Please take a moment to listen when you have a moment and share with folks you care about.
Unlike historic Southern narratives, I own my mistakes. This journey has been long for me. Although it was only three years ago when I stepped into the Harris County Courthouse for the first time, it feels much longer. April Blitz is supposed to be about telling my truth and sharing information.
“The Monument, in short, is a guide to the future: just as it confers a kind of immortality on the dead, it determines our actions in the years to come.”
from The Necessity for Ruins by J. B. Jackson
Honestly, I got ahead of myself. Last week was tough and I’m still reeling from the choices made by the Georgia legislature. Lacking a sense of belonging is not, by any means, a new emotion for me, but what I have learned about my home state in the past three years gives me a sense of placelessness that I am not familiar with. I know that I can never be at home there again.
If you have known me for a long time, you might know what I found in that courthouse that completely changed the way I understood history and my own place in it. If we are recently acquainted, you might not know but it is crucial to understanding my charge as an artist and my worldview as a human.
I walked into the courthouse on a sweltering hot and steamy day in August looking for documents that might have names that I recognized from my family’s oral history. My great-grandmother, who was born in April of 1911, grew up on a farm in Harris County. Although, her name was my inheritance, we called her Mimi. As an adult, she and many of her family members moved to the city that, 60-some years later, would become my hometown. They moved for better job opportunities, as I was told. Sharecropping was the only option in Harris County.
What I found inside of that courthouse, in an overly air-conditioned, dark vault, full of dusty old ledgers, was the name of Mimi’s great-grandmother, Ann. Her name appeared in two documents, an inventory and a bill of sale. The names of her children, including her first-born, Mimi’s grandmother Virginia, were also there.
I held that ledger, its yellowed, fragile paper embellished with two smeared, coffee-colored stains and delicate lines that looped and swirled itself into text. The oversized book I cradled in my arms documented that Ann and her children were purchased by the same man that fathered her children. His name was Isaiah Jr. He was the son of the man who originally owned her. Isaiah’s brother, Fleming, signed the inventory and the bill of sale.
At that moment, it dawned on me how frail the line between kinship and ownership could be. That realization troubled me for almost an entire year. The next summer, I embarked on what has become an annual pilgrimage back to Harris County. At first, my intention was simply to photograph the town. I wanted to understand how people could be so subjugated that their status of blood relation was ignored? What kind of belief system allowed a person to be actual kin to another, yet not allow them accept these kin human beings rather than chattel?
If you haven’t noticed already, the calendar I posted this morning lists a challenge for today. Typically on the days when you see this prompt, I will post an image the night before and you will have until 6 pm on the challenge day to make and post one or more memes using that image. Remember to use the hashtag #shadowofdixiememes so that I can follow.
The winning meme-maker will receive their choice of an original Inthe Shadow of Dixie Offset-printed postcard or digital photo print.
As I mentioned recently, Georgia’s legislature declared April, confederate history month some years ago. Lest you are tempted to think, “oh, 2009 was ten whole years ago, surely they have changed by now,” I must warn you that they most definitely have NOT.
Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.
In order to celebrate my confederate heritage (that’s a long story that I am just now realizing I haven’t told you yet) I am declaring this a month of action titled, April Blitz. In addition to blogging daily, each Monday, will bring a calendar of specific actions for the week ahead. I intend to carry out each one of those actions and challenge you to do the same. Because posts will be shared across social media, I apologize in advance for any redundancies. I think this has the potential to be loads of fun, especially if we can encourage a lot of folks to join in and share their contributions.
Last week, I picked up the pieces of the project I had to set aside over the winter. Although Decatur was not next in line, I thought that it would be a good place to start since the local government had already voted to remove the monument. Optimistic memories of how good it felt to sit beneath the obelisk thinking that it would soon be gone, came flooding back. The new postcards written to accompany the ones from August were not as cheerful.
After writing this postcard, I learned that not only did Senator Parent fight valiantly against SB 77 on the Senate floor, but she also was responsible for writing a counter bill that unfortunately did not pass. The postcard to the new governor who shall not be named was difficult to write and required a healthy bite of crow. I spent a considerable amount of time trolling him on Twitter before the elections. Throughout the day I will be reaching out to each of the Decatur politicians by email. I will keep you posted on who responds. I will also spend the day on the phone calling House Reps. I found out yesterday evening that the bill will be up for vote today. It passed.
Names of Community leaders that were sent postcards on 3/19/19
“After forty two years another generation bears witness to the future that these men were a covenant keeping race who held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the republic. Modest in prosperity, gentle in peace, brave in battle, and undespairing in defeat, they knew no law of life but loyalty and truth and civic faith, and to these virtues they consecrated their strength.”
Above is an excerpt of the text inscribed on the Confederate monument in front of the old courthouse in Decatur, Georgia. More than any other inscription I encountered last August, it speaks to J. B. Jackson’s description how a monument functions. It was after reading his essay that I first began to conceptualize In the Shadow of Dixie.
Thus monuments are lasting incentives, to those who view them, to imitate the virtues they commemorate, and attain, by their life and spirit, glory and honor.
from The Necessity for Ruins by J. B. Jackson
As long as these structures hold places of honor in our communities, they communicate to all who walk in their shadow that the virtues of the Confederacy are not only worth remembering, but what we ourselves and future generations must strive to attain.
In April of 2018, the Decatur city commission voted to remove this monument from plaza in the heart of downtown. GA code 50-3-1, written in 2010, prevented them from doing so. Later today, the Georgia House of Representatives will vote on a bill that strengthens that law. Why do lawmakers think its their job to legislate respect? They could be creating laws that strengthen public schools, improve Atlanta traffic, create public transportation routes so folks who live in rural areas could have easier access to jobs, or about a dozen other things that would make the state a better place to live, but instead they are choosing to rob local communities of the choice to create public spaces that are inclusive and welcoming for all.
I owe a huge apology to folks who have been following this blog. I appreciate you and am sorry.
Last fall, not long after my final post I had a family emergency that required all of my attention until quite recently. However, in the past month I have been hard at work, picking up the pieces of this project and figuring out how to move forward after the midterm elections. Before I could get a plan in place, I received the following message in my inbox….
SPLC Action Fund Statement On Passage Of Senate Bill 77
The following statement is from Heidi Beirich, Director of the Intelligence Project for SPLC Action Fund.
“At a time when cities all over the country are actively removing Confederate symbols from public spaces, it is disappointing that some Georgia lawmakers are choosing to play politics with our history and promote divisiveness.
“We should not equate the heroes of the American Revolution with the traitors of the Confederacy. Monuments dedicated to those who fought to defend slavery belong in places like museums where they can be examined in their proper context, not in public spaces such as government land, schools or parks. Senate Bill 77 effectively dissolves the will of local communities who wish to remove symbols of white supremacy from the public square.
“If we want to strengthen Georgia’s future, we need to start by having an honest debate about our history and the need to commemorate the South’s real heroes.”
For more information about the history of Confederate symbols, you can find a copy of our report, Whose Heritage, here.
The passage of this bill is a huge blow but I am determined to fight it and the law that it strengthens. The first step was to restart the postcard campaign. The second was start organizing a multimedia intervention campaign for next summer. The third was reactivating the blog. The final step will be April Blitz, a month long social media intervention of confederate history month.
In 1995, the state of Georgia officially proclaimed April confederate history month. In 2009 it became state law when SB 27 was passed.
Chapter 4 of Title 1 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to holidays and observances, is amended by adding a new Code section to read as follows:
(a) The General Assembly hereby finds and determines that tourism is a great economic resource in Georgia; and historical, heritage, and cultural inheritance are among the tourism industry’s most popular attractions. Georgia’s Confederate heritage, physical artifacts and battle sites, and historic events and persons not only attract visitors, they are potentially of even greater importance and benefit to our state’s economy. Increased development of our state’s Confederate history and heritage as part of the tourism industry will be enhanced through recognizing, celebrating, and advertising that heritage and history.
(b) The month of April of each year is hereby designated as Confederate History and Heritage Month and shall be set aside to honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear from its founding on February 4, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, until the Confederate ship CSS Shenandoah sailed into Liverpool Harbor and surrendered to British authorities on November 6, 1865.
(c) Officials and departments of state, county, and municipal governments, boards of education, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, businesses, and all citizens are encouraged to participate in programs, displays, and activities that commemorate and honor our shared history and cultural inheritance throughout each April during Confederate History and Heritage Month.”
This above section of the bill was sandwiched between two sections officially recognizing the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights museum in Savannah because racism in Georgia politics is insidious and petty. Take a look for yourself.
April is coming and I’m not here for your confederate foolishness.