Black Churches, Black Lives, the Legacy of Whiteness

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Nation Building

The United States government has failed at nation-building and democracy-creating more often than not. And never so badly as in the case of the defeated Confederate States of America.

I’m an outcome of that failure, as is the white terrorist who recently murdered people in their own church. We are an old and ignoble line.

I was a kid during the 1960s, a hundred years after the war, and I heard the muffled drums on Confederate Memorial Days. We picnicked under the shadow of Confederate war memorials. As a kid, I was taken on pilgrimage to Stone Mountain, the “Confederate Mt. Rushmore.”

I had relatives on both sides of the fight, troops fighting for Illinois, Tennessee, and Arkansas. I grew up playing with rusted bits of a revolver taken from a dead Yankee cavalrymen and lead fragments my Yankee great-grandfather pulled from his clothing after a particularly bad day of attacking the fortifications at Vicksburg. I felt part of that history.

One of my children is named for John A. Logan, the Northern general who rewarded some of my veteran forebears with cheap real estate and, incidentally, created the Northern version of Memorial Day.

The violence is part of my heritage, but that isn’t an excuse. The Northern part of my psyche wants it all to be over—the damned war and its sacrifice.

The Southern part of my psyche, like that of many Southerners, has been mutilated by that failure in nation-building I mentioned earlier.

Near my family farm in the southern part of Illinois is the “Old Slave House,” part of the Reverse Underground Railroad now in the popular consciousness due to the film Ten Years a Slave. (The real story is much bigger and more frightening—look it up.)

Fixing It

“The War” has always been a presence in my life. I am a white man born in the Ohio River Valley. . . a person steeped in the violence of the region. It’s a legacy. Still, even those of us complicit in the violence can do something about it. We can stop the violence of those who are acting in our name; and we can finish the war.

First, we must support efforts to rebuild the churches burned by our confused terrorist relatives.

Second, we must support a sea change in the “justice” system of the United States. We must fight to make it actually a just system.

Third, we must accept both the defeat of the racist Confederate States of America and the failure of attempts by the Federal government to create and enforce just government in the former CSA.

Win or lose, those who fought that war messed up: they (we) did not finish the job honorably. Their descendants have much work to do: Southerners must at last stop the guerrilla warfare, accepting the defeat of their (our) reprehensible ideas; and Northerners must accept that victory comes with a price—an obligation to follow through with reparations.

My violent relatives, North and South, thought that violence would fix the problem. But violence has not worked.

More difficult than violence is establishing just government in the South and the North.

Then, perhaps, we can put some old ghosts to rest and let some people go.

Our collective legacy is one of violence. It’s time to try peace.

Our collective choice must be the right one—to embrace the fact that Black Lives Matter.

Then, perhaps—just maybe—that War will be over.

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