By Yvonne Sam
“During the course of history, when moral lines become crossed and crass attitudes come to the fore, it behooves those of us who are honest and strong, to stand up, take note and re-evaluate anew.” (Author unknown).
A critical juncture has been reached across the United States and Canada regarding Confederate memorials and other monuments that signifies a racist or white supremacy past.
While there may be some wisdom behind the removal of the statues/symbols, at the same time, there is mounting concern that America and Canada is travelling down an insidious path— a foreseeable future when statues or symbols of past presidents, political icons and prime ministers, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John A. Mc Donald, among others, will also be torn down.
While long-suppressed memories of injustices and violence against those deemed “non-white” were secured and sealed in the monuments, removal is also unearthing history of a different colour (no pun intended).
George Washington, the first president of the United States, became a slave owner at the early age of 11, and accounts vary of the treatment meted out by Washington to the slaves at Mount Vernon.
What is clear however, is that Washington often used harsh punishment against the enslaved population, including whippings and the threat of particularly taxing work assignments www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/slavery/ten-facts-about-washington-slavery/.
As we rescript history, the removal of monuments now deemed offensive when examined through the spectrum of present day standards of morality, forces intelligent people to ask “Where do we draw the line?”
Has any thought been given to the notion that once the symbols/monuments have been removed, agitators and revisionists (such as seen in Montreal and Charlottesville) looking further afield, will incontrovertibly start battling for the pulling down of monuments etc. to slave owning Founding Fathers and Fathers of Confederation?
In the spirit of educational awareness and things not taught in school, it is a documented fact that Canada’s first prime minister and Father of Confederation, James A. Mac Donald, had family ties to the slave trade. We learn of his political sympathies towards the Southern Confederacy of historian, Stanley Ryerson.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Southern slavers found a friend in Mac Donald, and records further state that he was not shy about his preference for the pro-slavery side to win the war. While speaking at a banquet, Macdonald made a point of praising “the gallant defence that is being made by the Southern Republic” (Ryerson, 1983. pg. 335).
It is said that he may have named Canada a “confederation” in complaisance to the Southern Confederates with whom he sympathized (nationalpost.com/news/canada/in-defence-of-sir-john-a-macdonald-15-things-to-know-about-canadas-first-prime-minister).
For John A. Macdonald, Canada was to be the country that restored a pure Aryan race to its past glory (www.huffingtonpost.ca/rachel-decoste/john-a-macdonald_b_6450442.html).
It would be worthwhile knowing the feelings of the monument-removing left, especially in reference to the political dynasty—the Kennedys. The presidential race in 1960, found candidate John F. Kennedy in a very tight fight. The Black vote was crucial, as just four years earlier, almost 40 percent of Blacks voted Republican.
Thanks in large part to the indefatigable efforts of the brilliant singer, actor, dancer, musician and comedian entertainer, Sammy Davis Jr., who campaigned hard for the Democratic candidate — even postponing his marriage to May Britt, a white actress, until after the election to avoid vote loss from those who were against interracial marriage — Kennedy was elected.
Davis then got married, but the President-elect disinvited him from performing at his inaugural gala, simply because he married a white woman (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2607068/He-endured-called-boy-c-n-N-word-Sammy-Davis-Jr-s-greatest-humiliation-came-JFK-refused-let-perform-inauguration-married-white-woman.html#ixzz4r5vaKTnG
On January 14, 1963 in Montgomery, Alabama Governor, George Wallace, a newly–elected Democrat, stepped up to the podium to deliver his inaugural address, flocked by many of his followers wearing white flowers that were meant to symbolize their commitment to white supremacy (www.npr.org/2013/01/14/169080969/segregation-forever-a-fiery-pledge-forgiven-but-not-forgotten).
Senator Ted Kennedy is reputed to have blown Wallace a kiss, after the governor had given what became the era’s most notorious defense of segregation. The governor showed his support for Jim Crow, or legal segregation, by shouting “ segregation now”, “segregation tomorrow”, “segregation forever”, and in addition, tried to stop Blacks from attending the University of Alabama by blocking a campus doorway (www.npr.org/2013/01/14/169080969/segregation-forever-a-fiery-pledge-forgiven-but-not-forgotten).
The entire approach regarding removal of Confederation monuments etc. that have seemingly inflicted untold misery on the psyche of Blacks, need to be revisited, reevaluated, and be approached in a balanced, measured and thoughtful manner.
Arguably the roles of the Confederate leaders need not continue to be adulated through their statues, as clearly, removal is producing history retrieval and leading further inwards, fuelling long suppressed anger and outrage.
Notwithstanding, when all evidence of Confederate attachment is removed, then what next?
What will sate the revisionists or the monument-removing leftists as the culture war is pushed into new territory, and laws expose flaws to take center stage?
Rest assured that it will not be long before calls are made to add symbols honoring Blacks (African Americans) as an alternative to the monument removal, as the historical landscapes becomes forever altered.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.