It’s funny how once a thing gets started it can take on a momentum that nothing can stop. Four months ago no one gave a rat’s ass about Confederate statues, and now it’s all we can talk about. Cities are removing them, vandals are defacing them, mobs are destroying them and people with varying agendas gather to protect them. It’s all very strange.
I grew up in a southern state but I don’t have strong feelings about the statues either way. I have no family connection to Civil War times as far as I know. None of my ancestors ever groused about Sherman’s March or those damn Yankee carpetbaggers. We didn’t fly the Stars and Bars or have a license plate with that fat little rebel soldier saying “Forget Hell!” Sometimes it bothers me I don’t get more worked up about the issues of the day like everyone else seems to. No doubt it’s due to a flaw in my character.
I have a friend who is extremely upset about what’s happening to the Confederate statues. He says they are trying to “erase our history”, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. The history will still be there, whether or not a bronze Robert E. Lee watches over a traffic circle in downtown Richmond. It wouldn’t surprise me to see my friend turn up on television someday, protecting a likeness of one of his Confederate heroes. Every time another city announces there will be a removal he goes off on a tirade. I worry the stress is bad for his health. Lately I try to avoid him whenever I can.
What puzzles me the most is how this all seemed to blow up overnight. Many of the statues at the center of the controversy have been in place for 90 years or more. I suppose it got started by the church killer with the bad haircut in Charleston, which set off the uproar over the Confederate flag. Most of the flags have since been purged from public places across the South, something that was probably overdue. Mississippi hasn’t quite come around with their state flag yet, but that’s because they are, you know, Mississippi. So targeting the Confederate statues was the next logical step in the progression for the perpetually offended, I guess, although I’m not sure they belong in the same category with the flag.
There was a Confederate statue on the grounds of the high school I attended in Arkansas, prominently displayed in front of the main school building. No one ever gave the thing a second thought, not even the black kids. Few of us knew or cared about the history behind it. We thought it was there for us to sit on and smoke.
The statue was of a seventeen year-old boy named David O. Dodd, who had the misfortune of being executed by the Union Army for spying. The United Daughters of the Confederacy installed it in 1910 and it graced the school grounds for sixty-four years until it was relocated to the back of the county courthouse in 1974. In the 42 years since, young master Dodd has stood there, stoically contemplating the lake beyond the highway bypass, largely unnoticed until recently, when someone decided his presence was offensive and he should be taken down. David O. Dodd was an unlucky teenager whose punishment was unjust in the eyes of many who were alive at the time. He wasn’t even in the Confederate Army. The fate of his likeness remains up in the air.
The question now on many minds is what happens next, after all the Confederate statues have been relocated to museums or weedy corners behind city maintenance barns. In what direction does the attention of the perpetually offended turn? Are they coming for you next, Mr. Jefferson? What about you, General Washington? We can’t have the faces of slave owners on our money and our mountains, can we? Never mind your heroic deeds and your insightful crafting of our nation’s government. It’s not enough. Smarter men would have known that 240 years in the future they would be judged by a different set of standards than those of the time in which they lived.
My anxiety ridden friend says just sit back and watch. Like Winter, it’s coming. He may be right. These are strange times we live in.