Published on June 25th, 2020 | by TLV News0
OPINION: “It Is Time to Take It Down” by Correl Hoyle
As we come off of the heels of Father’s Day, we remember the men who laid the ground before us. We remember their sacrifices, their love, and for some, their absence.
We would listen to stories of our dads as they would talk about the music they grew up on or their favorite athlete’s prime. Get enough time with your old man, you might hear about his prime, his generation’s prime. A generation that witnessed and survived terrible things. And with these stories, told and retold, even long after he is gone, comes a level of pride that is woven into you. It makes you proud of your family, proud of the county, state, and country they come from. It makes you proud of your heritage.
In my Mississippi high school, our class read the tales of past generations. The chapters concerning the American Civil War were taught in brief but witty fashion. Our history teacher was charismatic enough to make even the dullest subjects humorous and there was a lot to cover. But something bothered me in regards to this portion of the curriculum: if the Confederacy lost the war, why were my classmates driving around with Confederate stickers on their vehicles? Why does our state flag dangerously resemble the flag of the losing side? Why are there statues and monuments of the men who wanted people who were unlike them, and much like me, in chains?
Listening to my peers ultimately yielded the same response: it was their heritage and the flag of a forsaken and forgotten yesteryear and its people. That any and all reference and remembrance of the Confederacy was innocent and that I should be proud to have it wave over my head, being a native Mississippian. And I accepted it.
I moved to Oxford in 2012. I was never given a formal tour of the campus, but the days before my first bit of classes, I walked around to get a grasp of where landmarks were (it didn’t help my first few days of tardiness and wandering into the wrong rooms). Amongst the monuments on campus, and on The Square, the Confederate monuments caught my eye. They were daunting compared to the other life-sized ones, standing proudly on pillars, seemingly untouchable. Each of them placed at the entrance of either the campus or to the Square, as if to say, “Welcome,” or to say to others, “Beware.”
At a closer visitation, I realized that the statue on the Square was erected in 1907, while the war had ended in 1865. Engraved on the side of the statue are words that I memorized, that the men of Lafayette County died for a “holy and just cause.”
While many will dispute what that original “cause” was, such as general “states’ rights,” Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession stated that Mississippi’s stance was “thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world” and that the call for abolition “advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism.”
Even after the war was over, there were still those who kept a veil over the eyes and shackles on the legs of black folk never telling them that they were equal and free, hence the recent momentum and celebration of Juneteenth.
I sat with this revelation for some time. The idea that there was such a difference of opinion on whether black people were human; blood was shed days short of four years, and it’s recognized as the bloodiest war on American soil. But what’s most astonishing about the American Civil War, it was a battle against fellow countrymen, both fiercely believing they were on the right side of history. And after all of the roads, factories, and farms were destroyed, leaving the South in economic and agricultural ruin, what did they have left? Their pride.
Statues are made to memorialize and honor. They tell a story of the culture and the time in which they are molded and the story that the Confederate monuments have told to others was that these men did not die in vain. With so much historical evidence against the truth of the cause and outcome of the conflict, cities across the nation have constructed towering pieces of false narratives to silently remind others that the spirit of white supremacy is alive and well. Because to build a monument in the early 20th century, to commemorate a failed coup a generation prior was to send a message: I am somebody, at the expense of somebody else.
The statues are a celebration of a heritage, yes, but a heritage entangled in the suffering and confinement of a people looked upon as inferior.
I not only want the statue removed for the safety and well-being of fellow African-Americans. I want the statue removed for the well-being of white folk as well. As painful as it is, to know that either the City of Oxford condones the suppression of non-white lives, or doesn’t mind it, it is just as harmful for a young white child to see that piece of pseudo-history and believe it. A corrosive level of cognitive dissonance has eroded generations of minds, thinking little to nothing of human thralldom, as it looms over the courthouse lawn. It is an injustice to future generations to lie to them about a war on slavery.
To those in favor of keeping the statue, I was once angry with you. But now I understand. It must be excruciating to see yourself or your forefathers as the villain of this story, instead of the underdog. It must be impossible to hear phrases like “white supremacy” and “white privilege” and not in some way feel attacked. It has to be crippling to be told that the great generation you honor not only witnessed and survived terrible things, but partook in them.
Removing the statue wouldn’t erase history; it would correct it. Correcting a biased past will make way for an honest future.
Correl Hoyle received his associate’s degree in psychology from NEMCC, and his BA in psychology and English from the University of Missisippi. While enrolled at the University, Correl sat in protest in front of the James Meredith statue after students placed a noose around its neck.