A Somber Southern Heritage

I can be witty and funny and bitingly honest. But here, this time I just want to lay my heart out.

 

In the South, we’re not always so accepting of others.

 

We aren’t the quickest to be OK with gay and lesbian marriage equality. Regardless, this has changed today. We aren’t the quickest to make change for our African-American brothers and sister. That has changed this week.

 

The thing is, I find it amazing that I have friends who will out of one side of their mouth agree that slavery and the way our country has treated black people up until the 1960’s is bad. But they don’t realize that today, today the things that happened in Ferguson, in Baltimore, in Charleston- they are all still symptomatic of the same root cause.

 

I am amazed that I have friends who are sympathetic to #BlackLivesMatter, without realizing that all lives matter, and that also means the lives of LBTG’s who want to get married.

 

In church, Father Ben while celebrating marriage equality recognized that we still are not there all the way. He said, we still have work to do for the Transgender community. We still have to realize that yes, Black Lives Do Matter. But we are going to pray.

 

So, I’m going to attempt to carefully, succinctly, articulate my thoughts on the events of the past couple of weeks. And to explain why I think the events in Charleston and the passing of Marriage Equality, as well as the reactions to both, are rooted in the same fear and hatred. And why it has to stop.

 

The events of Charleston, of someone shooting members of a church, are clearly rooted in evil. Clearly rooted in a deep hatred and fear of “the other”. I don’t think there is much argument against that point. The push back comes when there is a call to bring down the Confederate battle flag from flying over the capitol of South Carolina. The capitol, Columbia, of a state within the United States.

 

Taking a step back from all of this it sounds like many of my Southerner friends are screaming “the blacks and the liberals are taking away our culture! Oh my god!”

 

You know what it sounds like to me?

 

Jim Crow.

Reconstruction.

 

It’s the same reactions many Southerners had when the Civil War was lost, and those who fought against the United States were then punished for their treason. Because, let’s be honest, regardless of how you feel- the treasonous parties are always the ones who lost.

 

These Confederate emblems were added to many state flags not right after the Civil War, not before it, but during the Civil Rights movement. According to The Atlantic, no publication to sniff at, the Confederate flag was added to the South Carolina state capitol in 1962.

 

The State of Georgia’s flag from 1956 until 2001 held that same Confederate battle flag on it. From Wikipedia: “The 1956 flag was adopted in an era when the Georgian General Assembly “was entirely devoted to passing legislation that would preserve segregation and white supremacy”, according to a 2000 research report by the Georgian senate”.

 

I will stop there. It’s this attitude of wanting to hang on to the emblems of Jim Crow which has gotten us all in this mess to begin with. Had we accepted losing the damn war, had we accepted actually allowing those who simply appear to be different from us to have equal rights we might not be in so much of a pickle.

 

Now there’s talk of tearing the monuments down. I would argue against this. To help me clarify my thoughts on the matter, I spoke with my dear friend Jennifer Wattley: an African-American woman who went to college with me and speaks very eloquently (not as in how she SPEAKS but how she writes as well) on this issue. Her concerns were, would taking these monuments down actually allow us to talk about this? Or is it an effort to simply wipe it all away? To pretend this didn’t exist?

 

I echo those concerns. And I think anyone lobbying for them knows this is a legitimate concern as well. To state otherwise is to commit harmful political pandering, not much different than those arguing against removing the flag. Does it make me cringe to read on these monuments “erected to the Glory of our Confederate dead”? Of course it does. But perhaps that’s the point?

 

At the same time, we’ve got to do better as a country about acknowledging that we were built upon the backs of slaves. I wonder if perhaps a large public art movement, something to erect monuments to the people who have fought for equal rights, for slavery to end, for Jim Crow to end, I wonder if that might not be appropriate? To erect monuments of those right next to those honoring the Confederacy?

 

For me personally, I am really proud of my Southern heritage.

 

I have family members who re-enact Civil War battles- I’ll let you guess which side. When I was a child, I thought it was kind of cool. No one bothered to tell me any better.

 

My great-grandmother worked in politics in an age when many women didn’t even vote. I’m proud of that. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I made the connection about on whose campaigned she worked.

 

She worked on the presidential campaign of George Wallace. I had a complete disconnect of those facts until even just a few years ago. How can that be?

 

I was a Political Science and History major. I have been well aware of the ugliness that was George Wallace for some time.

 

How did I not connect my own ugly tie to this history?

 

It’s easy to quite literally whitewash your own history.

 

There was a time when I would have advocated for keeping the Confederate flag flying above South Carolina. When I would have said we should keep the Georgia flag with the Confederate battle flag. I would have said, but it’s only a flag. It’s our heritage. Without even realizing the flag first came into existence the 1950’s… during Jim Crow.

 

There’s so much beauty in the South. I love having a job and a platform which lets me celebrate it. But amidst all that beauty are so many scars. Above the Spanish Moss of our coasts, there still flies Confederate flags- even when not above our Capitols.

 

There was a time when I would have said, it’s ok to celebrate our Confederate past- it’s not racist. I may have even thought, there’s no way my ancestors owned slaves. And if they did we would have been good masters. Thankfully, I am an adult and I know better than to say or think such a thing now.

 

I can be proud of my Southern heritage, proud that my family has roots in the South, and I am proud of this. But I can also recognize that this comes with some unwanted ugliness. This is the very essence of Southern Gothic culture.

 

I don’t have a concrete solution, but perhaps there is this:

 

For too many years I stood by, thinking as the child I was, allowing the hate to confuse me.

 

I now put away those childish things, and I speak with a clarity.

 

As an adult, I shed the yolk of an innocent child. I see now with unblinded eyes the hate around me.

 

And as an adult, I now know that complacency, acting the role of the white moderate, that silence only allows hate to fill the vacuum.

 

The blood of my African-American brothers and sisters is on my hands, is on the hands of all of us who bear silent witness. The tears of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are caused by me, as long as I do not stand up for them.

 

With one loud voice I will drown it out. With one loud voice mine will join those of others.

 

When I was a child, I spake as a child. But I have put away those childish things.

 

I am now a woman, and those ways of childhood are behind me. I can tell my children not to hate. I can teach them that Black Lives Matter, and that everyone deserves to love whomever they choose in the sight of God.
None of us are perfect, but we can reach our hands to our fellow men and women. We can reach our hands to our black, gay, Hispanic, Asian, lesbian- our Worldly, Earthly brothers and sister. Alike under the eyes of God. Pull them in to our fold, saying “ we are yours and you are mine”. Taking care to not let hate grown in the emptiness of silence again.

 

I meant to say this to begin with, and forgot so I’m adding it: I was able to hug two of my friends at church last night. Two friends who are gay, two friends who can now be legally married in any state of the US. And it felt amazing. Their hugs were so intense. I could FEEL their joy, their love, their happiness, their relief. It’s in those moments that you get a much better idea of how they really feel. I’m grateful to them for their embrace.

 

A special thank YOU to Jennifer Wattley for reading over this and making sure I didn’t say something stupid by accident (thankfully I hadn’t- she would have told me). And for editing my post, because when I’m emotional I sometimes miss silly mistakes.

 

Love to ALL OF Y’ALL!

 

Molly

Molly McWilliams Wilkins

Molly McWilliams Wilkins is a Southern culture commentator, web producer, and social media marketing maven. She is also a freelance writer who has worked with a variety of publications and online magazines including Bourbon & Boots, Paste Magazine, Macon Magazine, the 11th Hour, Macon Food & Culture Magazine, and as the Digital Content Editor for The Southern Weekend. Mommy first, fashionista, social media maven, writer, artist, dreamer and poet. Hangs on to her Oxford Commas by force. Addicted to shoes and purses- and lots of coffee. Coffee coffee coffee.

Molly McWilliams Wilkins has 883 posts and counting. See all posts by Molly McWilliams Wilkins

One thought on “A Somber Southern Heritage

  • June 30, 2015 at 6:57 pm
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    We’ll said. Very proud to call you my friend.

    Reply

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