Lately, we’ve been hearing and reading a lot about the Confederacy, white supremacists and Civil War heroes. Growing up, the Civil War didn’t have a prominent place in our lives. Sure, we visited the Gettysburg Battlefield and learned about the war in school. But it was an historical artifact of sorts — something that occurred but had long past.
And then I moved to Virginia. It was there I experienced first hand that the war wasn’t over — at least not in certain people’s minds. It also was there I frequently heard it referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.” And saw the flag of the Confederacy fly from porches and pickup trucks. It was there that some people called me a Yankee, with the disdain the term implies in the Deep South.
More recently, just over the mountain from where we lived in Virginia, white supremacists marched and engaged in violence to promote their cause. Some people interpret this as a sign the principles underlying the Confederacy are alive and well.
I disagree. I think it’s a sign of the Confederacy’s dying gasp.
Racism will live on, of course. But the Confederacy was about so much more. It was about preserving an economic and social system rooted in slavery. That clock isn’t about to be turned back.
That’s not to say there isn’t involuntary servitude today. There is. And even among the free, true freedom isn’t as pervasive as commonly thought.
It also isn’t to say there is equal opportunity for all. There isn’t. But it’s getting better.
It is to say that what we’re witnessing now — with the white marches and election of Donald Trump — is the last gasp of a dying power structure. The days of racists, white men are coming to an end.
The country is changing. It’s getting less white. And it’s getting less male — not in general; rather, in the halls of power.
Moreover, the distance between the War (whatever name you want to ascribe to it) and the present is increasing with each and every passing day. There is no one alive who lived then, and no one alive whose parent fought in the War. Our national memory is fading.
Economic mobility has hastened the fade. Yankees now live throughout the South, and Rebs are dispersed throughout the North. The terms themselves now seem absurd to the vast majority of Americans (I always thought they were).
Some people hate to see our country change. They fight to keep women at home and out of our board rooms, legislatures and executive officers. They go out of their way to avoid people of color. They bestow privilege on the old white families that shower their institutions with money (i.e., their character is for sale).
But most people don’t. Most people have come to believe it’s wrong to judge and treat people based on their sex or the color of their skin.
We don’t always live up to our beliefs, but with time our beliefs strengthen and help narrow the gap between rhetoric and action. With time, we’re learning how to be better people.
The War has been over for more than a century and a half. Now, we’re witnessing the end of the Confederacy and the blossoming of the principle of freedom and justice for all.
The War is over indeed. But the fight continues.