Black people have heard Southern white people talk about Southern “heritage” for decades. Rarely have the messages been more serious than when they insist that devotion to the Confederate battle flag, statues and monuments erected in memory of fallen Confederate soldiers, and other artifacts of the antebellum era do not represent hostility about racial justice.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard white Southerners who defend Confederate artifacts, memorabilia, statues and monuments brag about the Black people who worked for their families (“they are just part of our family”) as they defend Southern heritage.
However, white Southerners cannot identify a statue or monument honoring the Freedman’s Bureau. They do not brag about the Black members of Congress, the U.S. Senate and Southern legislatures during the Reconstruction Era. In fact, they seem unaware that the monuments and statues erected by various Confederacy sympathizers and other Lost Cause devotees were commissioned and built after Reconstruction — meaning after federal forces were removed from the South following the election of President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.
And most of all, when I overhear white people who claim to follow Jesus talk about Southern heritage, I am struck by what I have never heard.
“When I overhear white people who claim to follow Jesus talk about Southern heritage, I am struck by what I have never heard.”
I have never heard white people talk about Southern heritage and say anything about love for God and neighbors, immigrants, women, children, the elderly, ill, workers and people who are poor.
I have never heard them mention Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Thurman, Julian Bond, James Meredith, Medgar Evers, Daisy Bates, Rosa Parks, Hank Aaron, Coach Eddie Robinson, Lou Brock, B.B. King, Otis Redding, Louie Armstrong or Ray Charles.
They do not mention Southern fried chicken, blues, jazz, country music and sweet tea.
No. They talk about flags, statues and monuments that memorialize people who fought to maintain human trafficking, chattel slavery, rape, murder, torture, wage theft, peonage, voter suppression and intimidation, and the conduct that gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Council.
So, I do not believe Southern white people who claim to be followers of Jesus and rail about protecting Southern heritage. I am a native of the South. My family ancestry is Southern in this land as far back in my ancestry as my family has been able to investigate.
“My African ancestry was obliterated thanks to what Southern white people call ‘heritage.'”
My African ancestry was obliterated thanks to what Southern white people call “heritage.” I know more about the hatefulness surrounding professed love for Southern heritage than I care to admit and remember. None of it fits the religion of Jesus.
And when I see and hear defenders of Southern heritage support racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, warmongering, capitalistic, worker-oppressive and creation-hazardous policies and politicians who claim to be followers of Jesus, I know what is happening.
I am seeing and hearing hypocrites and heretics. I am witnessing the love and justice of God and the religion of Jesus being slandered, libeled and hijacked. I am witnessing blasphemy. I am witnessing the same heresy that established the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 so slave-holding Baptists could be commissioned as missionaries abroad in the name of the Jesus who preached release of captives.
I am witnessing the heresy that elected white Southern politicians who signed the infamous Southern Manifesto and came to be known as “Dixiecrats.”
I am witnessing the heresy that named the county seat of St. Francis County in the Arkansas Delta after Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general whose forces massacred as many as 300 Black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow during the Civil War and who founded and became the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
And in the name of the Jesus who denounced hypocrites, I condemn and denounce supporters of “Southern heritage” memorabilia and monuments, including the preachers, pastors, congregations, Bible colleges, seminaries, denominations and everything else associated with it.