In Confederacy on August 21, 2017, with no comments
What do Confederate monuments mean? This is apparently a question that continues to vex many.
Perhaps Wiley N. Nash, Mississippian and Civil War veteran, can help.
“What good purpose,” he asked in 1908, “is subserved, promoted and supported by the erection of these Confederate memorials all over the South?”
#Shorter Nash reply: “White people shall rule the South forever.”
But of course Nash had studied both literature and the law at the University of Mississippi, so his actual answer came fully attired in his best Lost Cause finery:
Like the watch fires kindled along the coast of Greece that leaped in ruddy joy to tell that Troy had fallen, so these Confederate monuments, these sacred memorials, tell in silent but potent language, that the white people of the South shall rule and govern the Southern states forever.
Wiley was the featured speaker on December 2, 1908, when the white citizens of Lexington, Mississippi, gathered for ceremonies to unveil their new Confederate monument. It was typical of the memorials then going up across the south: A generic soldier standing atop a stone column, in front of the county courthouse.
The column is of modest height, not as tall as the one in Natchez, say, nor does it feature any secondary statues at its base, as the one in Greenwood does. Both were richer cities. Still, the monument’s debut was something to be celebrated. A college band played “Dixie.” A group of school children sang “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” Civil War Veterans paraded along with eleven girls chosen to represent the eleven seceding states of the Confederacy.
Nash was eminently qualified for his leading role. He was a Mississippian by birth, and a lawyer who had served both in the state legislature and as the state’s attorney general.
More to the point, he had fought in the war, riding in various cavalry units. Equally important, after the war he had fought in the campaign to restore white rule in Mississippi. Nash “did as much as any one man,” read one of his obituaries, “to assist in gaining control of the state government and accomplishing the overflow [sic] of carpet bag and Negro rule.”
“To him,” it continued, “Mississippi should be ever grateful for the part he took in the protection and preservation of our traditional hereditary rights and liberties.”
We may be ever grateful to Nash as well, for among his fulsome remarks that day, which run to roughly 7,000 words, he included a clear, concise, nine-point-itemized list on what the statues actually do.
The ruddy leaping joy of perpetual white power comes in at number seven. Monuments also “keep honorable” the “present and future dominant and ruling Southern Anglo-Saxon element” (item 2) and help “keep the white people of the South united — a thing so necessary” (item 6). They will also remind one and all “how sacred and how dear are the reserved rights of the States, reserved in the language of the Constitution to the States, or to the people” (item 8).
It may be asked, “What good purpose is subserved, promoted and supported by the erection of these Confederate memorials all over the South?” I answer:
(1) Besides honoring the South, the Southern cause, its supporters and brave defenders, the living and the dead, it will keep in heart and spirit the South, and her people for all time to come.
(2) It will keep honored and honorable, as the years roll on, the name and fame of the fathers and forefathers of our present and future dominant and ruling Southern Anglo-Saxon element, those who, “come weal, come woe,” are to mould, shape, fix, dictate, and control the destiny of the South and her people.
(3) It will educate each rising generation, each influx of immigration in our customs, traditions, thought and feeling, as well as in the esteem, love and admiration of the Southern people.
(4) It will help all others to form a correct idea of, a respect for our civil, religious, social and educational institutions.
(5) It will help to a true understanding of home rule and local self-government, contending for which the South lost so many of her best and bravest.
(6) It will serve to keep the white people of the South united — a thing so necessary — to keep, protect, preserve and transmit, our true Southern social system, our cherished Southern civilization, —
“And Dixie’s sons shall stand together,
Mid sunshine and in stormy weather,
Through lightning flashes and mountains sever,
Count on the ‘Solid South’ forever.”
(7) Like the watch fires kindled along the coast of Greece that leaped in ruddy joy to tell that Troy had fallen, so these Confederate monuments, these sacred memorials, tell in silent but potent language, that the white people of the South shall rule and govern the Southern states forever.
(8) They will tell to Sovereign States from the Atlantic, where raged the fight that made us free, to the calm and placid waters of the Pacific, to States, if made from the isles of the sea, how sacred and how dear are the reserved rights of the States, reserved in the language of the Constitution to the States, or to the people.
(9) They will teach the South through all the ages to love the Southern Cause, her Southern soldier boys.
On this matter, Nash is an unimpeachable source: a Mississippian, a veteran, a redeemer and a monument-unveiler. This is what the monuments mean. His is the definitive answer. His is a direct expression of the original intent, if you will, of the people who built them.
More than a dozen Confederate monuments have come down across the country since the events of Charlottesville earlier this month, and others are now being reviewed. The memorial in Lexington still stands, as do all the rest in Mississippi. No cities have announced reviews. Earlier this year, a member of the legislature said that anyone who wanted to take down statues “should be lynched!” De-Dixiefication, like the Civil Rights Movement, will come late to Mississippi.
There is a renewed talk about finally changing the state flag, an effort rekindled by Dylann Roof murdering nine church-goers in Charleston, South Carolina, two years ago. Mississippi’s current flag is the last in the south to contain a Confederate element. The design dates back to 1893, when the state legislature, including Wiley Nash, approved it.