I am very particular about my coffee. Because of this, I rarely venture out of my home to buy a cup. I prefer to brew it myself, carefully measuring out the ingredients and being certain that my water is the perfect temperature. But, there is one shop that I like to frequent. It’s called Prevail Union, and they refer to themselves as “craft coffee brewers.” I’m not quite sure what that means, but I can assure you it’s great coffee.
After I thank the barista, I always head out onto the street. Afterall, downtown Montgomery, Alabama, is such a beautiful place, steeped in over 200 years of history. I often find myself drifting to a nearby bench, soaking up the ever changing atmosphere. Beside me, always sits my beautiful wife. She is marveling at the nearby squirrels who never seem notice the people all around them. Next to her, stands a small sign. And there we sit, painfully numb to our surroundings. You see, this corner used to be the Montgomery slave market. Right here, traders paraded, beat, and sold hundreds of African slaves. The sign that stands here to commemorate their hardship bears less than 100 words.
If you look to the right, down Dexter Avenue, you’ll see Alabama’s capitol building. It’s breathtaking. The Greek Revival style architecture, the dazzling white stone, and the huge pillars sit atop capitol hill, looking as regal as a king. In front of the capitol, there is a large statue of Jefferson Davis, former United States Senator turned President of the Confederate States of America. On the north side of the grounds, there is another statue. It is an 88-foot tall monument to the Confederacy. I must admit… the craftsmanship is excellent.
I suppose the name “Prevail Union” is fitting for a coffee house situated where the slave market once stood. After all, the Union did prevail. But here, it doesn’t always feel that way. On this bustling corner, there are people of every race, color, and creed. Many of them glance up at the sign next to me and immediately look down. Once in awhile, someone will stop to read its short blurb, only to scurry off to their destination. They too have become numb to their surroundings. Surroundings in which slavery, rape, and torture are a forgotten footnote, yet pardoned traitors are elevated to a place they themselves would not accept.
This begs the question, when did this change occur? Unfortunately, it’s wasn’t a change. Following the Civil War, defeated Southerners moved to maintain their pre-war way of life. The 13th Amendment freed the slaves, but to many people in the South, blacks were still an inferior race. The government granted them equality, but here the consensus remained the same. Blacks are subordinate to whites. That’s when the monuments came in.
All over the South, Confederate monuments sprang up. They lauded men who once fought for the destruction of America as heroes. But they weren’t erected for their commemoration. The monuments were meant to send a clear message to black people in the South. “The federal government may have freed you, made you citizens, and let you vote, but this isn’t the Union. This is the South. To us, you’re still scum.”
I was born and raised in the South. Since my youth, I have been surrounded by hate. The same hate many of you have been surrounded by. With the recent tragedy in Charlottesville still fresh in our minds, we must reexamine our surroundings. We must ask ourselves how these monuments to the Confederacy affect the greater good of our nation. Indeed, there are many who look upon these monuments and feel a sense a pride, not for white supremacy but for their heritage. Even so, when approaching this sensitive matter, we must look to the sculptor’s intent. We must consider what they were intended to stand for. White supremacy. Racism. Hate.
On this street corner and on many others, there is a message that our privilege as white people does not allow us to read. People of color, however, can read it all too well. “You may be free. You may be citizens. You may be allowed to vote. But you are inferior.” For that, the statues must come down. Replace them with monuments that memorialize the hardships of our fellow Americans – the true history of America, not a twisted history seen through a whitewashed lens.
[Featured Image by Ty Wright/Getty Images]