Where Are the True Monuments to Independence?

Where Are the True Monuments to Independence?

MLK Jr DC Memorial

As we reflect on the meaning of Independence Day, I can’t help but shake the feeling that true independence is not reflected in the landscape of America. As we think about the struggle to remove Confederate monuments throughout the South, and the backlash  that has been received, we are reminded of the importance of history (whether it is truthful or revised). The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, gave an impassioned  speech  as to why the Confederate monuments needed to come down.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

And let’s not even touch the fact that the Confederacy was a bunch of traitors; they separated from the United States over slavery and the economic windfall they received from subjugating human beings. Every time a Confederate flag flies, it is not a sign of rebellion; it’s the sign of a traitor.

Sure the South came back. But the Confederacy is like a spouse who cheated. The couple may work out their differences, but it doesn’t erase the betrayal. 

What made me start to think about this topic was a thread on Twitter by an activist of color named Samuel Sinyangwe. He had gone to Barbados for the first time and saw a monument named Bussa (aka the Emancipation Statue). It’s a beautiful, impressive and important statue celebrating a slave who led the largest rebellion against slavery  in Barbados back in 1816. It is prominently featured in the center of the city. He is considered a national hero. Samuel mentioned he had never seen anything like that before, and certainly not in the United States. As a result of this comment, folks from around the Caribbean (including Cuba) shared their country’s monuments to the brave slaves who fought for independence. See the photos here

Bussa
Bussa, aka the Emancipation Statue in Barbados.

So if Confederate history is so important that the fight to keep their monuments stretches all the way to the halls of Congress, why aren’t there monuments to the great slaves who fought for their independence, their freedom, and their humanity? What about a beautiful bust of Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner or Sojourner Truth? Or how about this — for every Confederate statue, build a monument to a hero of the Civil War (both soldier and slave)?

We do have a statute of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. While that is all well and good, that pales in comparison to the many who gave their lives very early in the struggle, paving the way for Dr. King to also give his life for independence and equality. 

What does this fight tell our children? What does this debate tell people of color?

I leave you with this thought on Independence Day. Independence Day to me represents opportunity. It represents the chance to keep fighting, to keep pushing for equality. But I also use it as a day of reflection — looking at how far we’ve come, but how far we yet have to go.

Symbolism is everything.  

emancipation park in JA
Emancipation Park in Jamaica
Racist and Proud: Is This What it Means to be Free?

Racist and Proud: Is This What it Means to be Free?

White gunman sought in killing of 9 at black church in South Carolina
RIP Senator Clementa Pinckney — you are truly free

I saw disturbing hashtag on Twitter the other morning.

It said #RacistandProud.

While I applaud the efforts of Governor Haley of South Carolina, the representatives and the legislators such as Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, who are fighting to take down the Confederate flag, the bottom line is you cannot legislate the hearts of men and women. Try as we might, we cannot make hatred illegal.  Acts of hate, yes.  But we need to do more to change the belief systems that lead to the acts of hate.

President Obama made this very point in a recent radio interview which caused quite a stir. People are very focused on his use of the N-word rather than the point he was making. The point is, it’s not about oh, we no longer can say the N-word in public therefore racism is dead. Everyone can drink from the same water fountain. We can use the same bathrooms. We can all enter the same places. Therefore, racism is no longer a problem.

Many people are afraid to even admit racism still exists, let alone even have the dialogue. How are we even to move forward, if people won’t even sit down at the table to have the discussion and hear opposing points of view?

This is why I was so disturbed by the Rachel Dolezal debacle. As you may recall, she was the White woman who was the President of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, and had held herself out as African American in recent years.  Her lies finally unravelled, resulting in her stepping down from her position in disgrace (but with a few prime time interviews). She, as a White woman, could have been a White female advocate on civil rights and social justice causes.  If she had been authentic, she could have helped facilitate this discussion with White America, potentially in a non-confrontational manner. But, this is a missed opportunity — the ship has sailed. Thank God for Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. Jon Stewart uses comedy as a vehicle to take on serious issues of race, making some salient points.  In the days after the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina Jon Stewart issued a blistering monologue that cut right to the heart of the issue of discussing race in America.

All good people watched in horror as nine innocent people lost their lives while worshiping in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. The bottom line is, the alleged killer, Dylann Roof was not a lone (although he acted alone), mentally ill, marginalized, sad boy who acted in a random manner. If you examine his manifesto his behavior and the flags he wore on his jacket, he is part of a greater movement.

A movement of #RacistandProud.

These are people who want to “take back the country” from what they feel are African Americans “moving above their station”. We as African Americans are no longer slaves, serving our masters the way they deemed we are supposed to be. We are becoming Presidents, Attorney Generals, Senators, Congresswomen, and having real power with the ability to change the world in a positive way. This idea is so revolting, so abhorrent, that the only way to react is to commit acts of murder and terror.

Think this sounds dramatic? Think back into American history, and how when African Americans protested simply for the right to vote and be treated equally, they were beaten and killed.  Think about how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the proponent of non-violence, met his end.

So forgive me, if I shudder, when I hear certain politicians say “it’s time to take back our country”…because I’ve heard that language before.

I had the distinct honor and pleasure of being present for the historic installation of Loretta Lynch as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States in May. Two points of foreshadowing arose: first, in her speech, she stated “we do not look to the twin pools of revenge and retribution; we look to the law”. And secondly, the DEA Black and Gold Band played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes as they saluted General Lynch and blessed her for her term.

How ironic that within weeks of this incredible moment, we as a nation would see ourselves looking to the law to give us relief after a horrendous terrorist act against innocents; and hear President Obama make very poignant points (as well as sing) Amazing Grace at the funeral of slain South Carolina pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney.
President Obama reminded us during Senator Pinckney’s eulogy that we are all born with God’s grace — do we choose to use that grace to shine with positivity? Or do we cover that grace with hatred, racism and anger? Do we stand by while racist comments are made in our presence, ignore the cries and plights of others, saying “it’s not my problem”, or “it’s not so bad, they’re being dramatic”?

My heart goes out to Emmanuel AME church. To the victims, you are gone, not forgotten, and your death will not be in vain. As a country, still we rise. We will overcome this, as we have overcome so much adversity in our history. Together. As one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

People pray and listen to the Sunday service outside of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 21, 2015. Large crowds arrived at Sunday's service at the black church in Charleston where nine African Americans were gunned down, as a chilling website apparently created by the suspected white supremacist shooter emerged. The service will be the first since the bloodbath on Wednesday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southern state of South Carolina, which has fuelled simmering racial tensions in the United States and reignited impassioned calls for stronger gun-control laws. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV        (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People pray and listen to the Sunday service outside of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 21, 2015 in the first service after the murder of nine victims. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV /Getty Images)
This is the true meaning of freedom and Independence Day.

In case you missed it, see the stirring rendition of Amazing Grace

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