Tag Archives: white supremacists

Racists, Neo-Nazis, Holocaust Deniers, Christian Theocrats, and Trump Cultists Beware: Come Here at Your Own Risk, Don’t Dare Try Me


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I draw my line in the sand and I will not stand down against people who threaten to use violence or intimidation against me, and what I believe to be true. I don’t flee, I fight, especially when it comes to the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its Amendments, which I have for nearly four decades pledged my life, honor, and integrity to defend, and follow to promise of Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address to create a more perfect Union.

Over the past month I have been experiencing a significant number of ad hominem attacks by White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, Right Wing Race baiters, and Christian theocrats. Sadly, I am so well acquainted with their intentions and lines of attack that dealing with them is now like shooting fish in a barrel because they are so ignorant of history, science, philosophy, reason, and even their own self proclaimed Christian Faith. Willful ignorance is painful to see in action, especially when it is used as a weapon, because it always ends up in the death and defeat of its proponents. The attacks are like suicide charges which always end up in the deaths of the attackers, so long as the defenders don’t stand down or panic.

I had my first attack back in 2010 not long after I started the blog. I learned early on to be suspicious of such comments and subscribed to a site that helps me identify and track down these people. The first guy used a couple of Nazi related screen names and he made very specific threats against me even describing my home. He had a number of websites and had many racist and Neo-Nazi posts, as well as instructions on how to build IEDs. I tracked him down to Eastern Tennessee and made an identification which since his treat was coming from across state lines I reported him to the FBI. Now at the time I was still in the beginnings of the worst part of my PTSD/TBI ordeal, and my reaction to threats like this is not flight, it is fight. A couple of weeks later the man’s web presence disappeared.

After that I would get the occasional troll, but depending on what they said I either immediately blocked them or tore their arguments apart and then blocked them after I figured out who they were. This has been my normal practice.

In 2014 I even had a Troll attacking my faith with a fake yahoo email address from the 754th Electronic Systems Group located at Gunter Annex, Maxwell Base, Alabama. I tracked the IP address to a specific building and the unit. I reported it to the Maxwell AFB Criminal Investigative Department who checked into it and told me that the IP address was that of the 754th, but that the command said that it would be impossible to determine who did it. I knew that was a lie because the “754th Electronic Systems Group provides and supports secure combat information systems and networks for the United States Air Force (USAF), the Department of Defense and other Federal Government Agencies.”  This is according to what they say of their organization. According to their mission statement the mission is:

“The 754 Electronic Systems Group provides technical and customer service support as well as acquisition and program management oversight of more than 160 Combat Support Information Technology systems. The 754 ELSG also manages the Air Force standard desktop environment, and serves as the Air Force lead for software program management under the auspices of the DoD Enterprise Software Initiative. Additional activities include managing the Air Force single enterprise-wide license contract with Microsoft Corporation, executing the Chief Information Officer’s Information Technology Commodity Council Strategic Sourcing program and administering the Network Centric Solutions contract valued at more than $9 billion. The 754 ELSG also manages more than 50 Air Force contracts and Basic Purchasing Agreements with a total value of $15 billion.“

The fact is that this organization has been reported hacking US and Allied agencies and private citizens. It was obvious to me that one of their civilian employees or contractors did this because it happened at 0837 hours on November 18th 2014. I should have reported to Congress, what the man did was nothing related to national security it was simply harassment by a supposed Fundamentalist Christian working for the Air Force, and protected by an organization that runs the IT oversight and service of the entire Air Force, but he was an outlier. I could never find out who he was, and he never commented again unless he was using another alias. One can understand why I don’t trust and even fear many Fundamentalist Christians who use their access to government power without accountability. That is why I oppose every one of them trying to make the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment to Trump the Establishment Clause in order to turn the United States into a Fundamentalist Christian Theocracy. Sadly, I believe that there are many more going up to the Vice President with the same goal. Mine is a cautionary tale. If you don’t believe me just google the organizations that IP addresses owned by the 754th and it’s command Headquarters, the former 554th Electronics Systems Wing, which was de active duty and renamed the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems of American and Allied organizations have hacked. The  Air Force Program Executive Office Enterprise has its hands in almost everything to do with IT and other Air Force electronic systems, intelligence, and warfare systems.

Of course that was a one time occurrence. When I wrote an article about the death of David Wilkerson, a beloved Evangelical and Pentecostal missionary and pastor who wrote the book The Cross and the Switchblade, as a suicide I was flailed by some of his cult like followers for weeks. I had the accident report, the photos, and the autopsy reports as well as his last blog which read like a suicide note, and inside information from church members of  Wilkeron’s Times Square Church, and the fact I was trained by the Army to investigate motor vehicle accidents , and had practical experience doing so, in horrible crashes. I tried to reason with them, sympathize with their loss only to be called to most horrible things imaginable. I finally blocked comments on the post. I received the compliments of Wilkerson’s son who not only agreed Ed with me but gave me more inside information at how Wilkerson had been betrayed and deposed by his closest ministry associates at Times Square Church and the terminal illnesses he and his wife had been diagnosed. Wilkerson had been betrayed, he and his wife were both dying, and his real friends had already died of old age. But his cultists didn’t have the compassion or sense to believe a man who had done so much good, and who had even written s small book against suicide could take his life. I had one of his admirers contact me yesterday. She shared her story and she was graceful and displayed real Christian virtues. We had a wonderful chat, and she responded gracefully to my respectful and genuinely heartfelt response. We don’t have to agree on everything to pray for, care for, and respect each other. She showed the heart of Jesus, and I respect her and care about her though we have never met. You see, Christian relationships really come  down to simple humility, respect and care.

but going back to what I began with, over the past few months I have been assaulted verbally by White Supremacists, racists, Neo-Nazis, Christian theocrats, and Trump Cultists. Almost all of them have attacked me on my articles about the BLM and  Holocaust, Nazi War Crimes, and the actions of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. It is interesting because when you break down their comments they expose themselves as such, and worse. Their comments are devoid of facts and full of innuendo, falsehoods, and ad hominem conspiracy theory based attracts.

One, at least until today was a subscriber to my blog, and his comment was so laden with untruths and libelous claims against so called liberals that I schooled him and invited him to leave, letting him know that auch comments would not be allowed and that he would be blocked if he ever did so again. Then there were several Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites who made allegations found in the leading Holocaust Denier Organization, the Institute for Historical Review. I have followed their lying bullshit for four decades, and I know when it is being repeated. For them it is all about conspiracy theories, moral equivalence, and blaming Jews for all that is wrong in the world to minimizing the Holocaust. At one time I used to simply trash their comments and block them. Now I take their arguments, which are really not arguments but propaganda points with no factual basis, backed up by salacious and libelous comments about me, when they don’t even know me. So instead of ignoring them I rip their guts out with facts and real data. Historic, scientific, and medical. Then I tell them to either support their arguments with facts or never come back. It seems that the lack of facts prevents them from further harassing me.

but I have to mention this. Many of these racist and Jew baiting trolls uses their business email addresses in their comments. Some are the owners of their business, mostly agents, but then some work for respected corporations. Every time that happens I expose them to their employers, or those corporations whose banner they operate under. I do have to admit that I take a perverse pleasure in exposing what they are to their employers or sponsors. I actually enjoy their stupidity not even to create a fake user name and email address to expose them to ruin, especially since every single one of them has beat their chest about their so called Christian Values when attacking me. Since I am humble enough not to claim that I teach the Almighty theology lessons, it will be interesting to see, if there is a literal heaven or hell, which even the early Fathers of the Christian Church disagreed about, as do many Jewish theologians, as to where we fall when all is said one done. As for me heaven will be much more expansive and full of the grace of God to all his children and creation than those that attack me suggest. If they have a problem with me, then they can go to a different bar than I go to in heaven. If not then we can fight it out in purgatory until God let’s us in.

But the key lesson I have learned is to be truthful. To treat people as I want to be treated, and whenever possible treat them with respect and decency so long as they are not condemning people to hell because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, political stance. or supposed sins, when according to the Christian Scriptures, the blood of Jesus covers all sin, or imperfection, and that God and the entire Creation look forward to its redemption at the hands of the people of God.

So I will call it a late night or early morning and wish you all the best, except the Neo-Nazi Scumbag racists and Holocaust deniers. I hope YAWEH Himself gets his hands on your pathetic necks.

As for what happens to me in the afterlife it is irrelevant so long as I am faithful to love God and my neighbors, and remain honest, speak the truth and have a modicum of personal integrity, trusting that Jesus the Christ will have my back.

So until tomorrow or Monday,

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, crimes against humanity, ethics, History, holocaust, Immigration and immigrants, laws and legislation, leadership, LGBT issues, mental health, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, spirituality, suicide

Silence In the Face of Evil Itself: A Dark Meditation of Resistance in Trump’s America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I have written about that a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, though I hoped for a different outcome. In the past three and a half years the President has gone from bad to worse.

He cannot tell the truth about anything, so his staff and supporters invented something they called alternative truth, or alternative facts. Within months of his inauguration he was overturning civil rights protections for many Americans, those who had little power to resist. He went after the voting rights of Black Americans, the elderly, and the poor. He went after LGBTQ people’s basic civil rights, many of which were only recently won. He went after the human rights of immigrants, and refugees, even the children of people who came here decades ago, the Dreamers who were raised as Americans, who served in the military, and how had become contributors to the American way of life, though they were deprived of citizenship. He promised to build a wall to keep out Latin American refugees, though not completed he took actions that separated families and locked children in cages on concrete floors as he enriched the most wealthy with tax cuts, but in the process blew the budget deficit into realms never dreamed about before. He attacked patriotic Americans, including members of the military calling them traitors because they respected the Constitution more than worshipping him. He went after long time American allies and made himself a de facto ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He made his presidency one of White Supremacy and the economy, but his Presidency was built upon smoke mirrors and lies. When the novel Coronavirus 19 was identified as an epidemic in China and then as a pandemic he ignored it and then minimized it time after time again. Then everything came apart on him with dire results for the country at large.

When COVID 19 finally began to hit the United States and kill people he finally acted, but far too late. Now over 118,000 Americans are dead, and that is the official count, which is certainly a large undercount, with two million more being infected and half of those still at risk of death. But it wasn’t until the economy began to tank and Wall Street crashed that he did anything. The virus is still here, with tens of thousands a day being infected, as he continues to push to reopen the economy to go back to a normal that cannot be restored, regardless of the number of lives lost.

Then there were a spate of targeted killings of Black men by Whites acting as vigilantes, and police brutality and excessive force. The men, and a woman who happened to be an EMT for the City of Louisville, can only be classed as murder. The straw that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds until he was dead. When massive protests broke out all over the nation he ordered maximum force to be used and tried to co-opt the military into becoming involved into his political fight for survival. In doing that he attacked peaceful protestors in Lafayette Park and at St John’s Episcopal Church. The assault, launched as he was speaking from the Rose Garden was brutal. Tear gas, pepper spray grenades, rubber bullets were followed rolled by an all out assault by Federal Police and National Guardsmen, including mounted units. When the square was cleared the President marched out for a photo-op displaying the Bible as a weapon. Military leaders reacted in horror and refused to support any more such actions.

Sadly, I could keep listing abuse after abuse of the law and Constitution by President Trump, but don’t think that I need to continue.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To the soon to be former GOP Congressman, Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him seem to want blood flowing in the streets, they want a new Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that Congressman King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns, including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.”


The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while former Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her successors deny that the President’s words and actions, and vilify anyone that bothers to disagree with the President or their blatant lies. So when Huckabee Sander is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or former DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.


Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my old chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

In fact two years ago Wednesday, in my former Chapel, a parishioner, a retired Navy Officer attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for preaching basic Catholic and Christian social justice teaching that goes back to the Old Testament where the Psalmists cry out for justice against oppressors and the Kings, Priests, and rich who the Prophets condemned, and which at least in the Catholic tradition still remains. The man blatantly lied about what I said. He said that in the sermon I called the President Hitler, and the Border Patrol the Gestapo.

It was all a lie, but an investigation was launched. Instead of trusting my life and career to a brand new Navy lawyer, I reached out to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who found me an experienced former military lawyer who had taken on high profile cases before. The investigating officer wanted to interview me, but I refused without legal counsel. So he interviewed half of the congregation that was present that day. None would corroborate the accusations but some said that they disagreed with my sermon because of their political views. I was exonerated and the investigation stopped there, but if I had retired out of that assignment, I would have probably never darkened the door of a church again. That experience confirmed the worst thoughts that I had about the Conservative Christians who make up the majority of President Trump’s Cult. They no longer care about Christ, the teachings of the Christian faith, but only care about establishing a Christian theocracy on the order of the modern Taliban, Calvin’s Geneva, or Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. In 1945 Captain Gustave Gilbert, a US Army Psychologist assigned room the major Nazi War Criminals noted that one thing tied all of them together, the absence of empathy. He would remark, that he had come to the conclusion that “evil is the absence of empathy.”

As I conclude this article I am reminded of the words of the German General Henning Von Tresckow, who died in the attempt to kill Hitler and destroy the Nazi State:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

I think we could easily substitute the United States for Prussia in his words. We have lost that balance that Tresckow described, and it will destroy us if we are not careful.

Sadly, the absence of empathy all too well describes the malignant narcissistic sociopath that is President Trump, his family, his inner circle, and his most faithful supporters appear to be. I could be wrong, but I know that I am not. I expect that things will get worse much worse before they get better. I say this because I truly believe that since they don’t believe in the promise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or the rights laid out in the Constitution including its amendments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under authoritarian government, christian life, civil war, Coronavirus, economics and financial policy, ethics, healthcare, History, holocaust, Immigration and immigrants, laws and legislation, leadership, LGBT issues, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, White nationalism

Statues With Limitations: Time to Take Them Down

The Confederate Monument in Portsmouth, Virginia in 2017 and on June 11th 2020

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to apologize for the delay in getting this out. I have been working on most of the week. In fact, I thought I would have it ready on Wednesday night, but I was not happy with my revisions and the situation kept changing. So I kept editing, redoing, adding and deleting. That consumed Thursday night and Friday night as well as I tried to include the bases named for former Confederates is well. I quit last night and decided enough, that I would use what I had written about them in a separate article.  

This is a heavily edited and revised consolidation three articles that I wrote in 2017 following the White Nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, that the violence inflicted on the counter-protestors by the White Nationalists.  Of course that was when President said that “there were very good people on both sides.” I shuddered when I heard his words. Since then the President doesn’t even try to hide his massive amount of racism and admiration for the republic built on the foundation of slavery, whose descendants and supporters through the south and even in the north, erected monuments which were for the most part to perpetuate the memories of traitors, and to remind Blacks that they were not equal.

Over the past two weeks this topic, which was shut down pretty quickly after Charlottesville, has risen again with good reason. The brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a White police officer, which was followed by protests with a militarized police response, causing additional violence against unarmed and mostly peaceful protestors. The President Trump ordered an attack on peaceful protestors by heavily armed federal police and National Guardsmen, firing tear gas, firing rubber bullets, and brutalizing people indiscriminately following a speech from the Rose Garden to the Nation. He did it for a photo op outside St. John’s Church where he held up a Bible like a weapon. I never felt more afraid of an American President than I did at that moment. Overwhelming numbers of people agreed, and some of the finest, most honorable, and distinguished military leaders this nation has produced since Vietnam began to speak out, former Secretary of Defense and Marine Corps General James Mattis compared Trump’s actions to those of Hitler and the Nazis. And still Trump tweeted, but military commanders and governors took action.

Admiral Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations set about the process of banning the official or unofficial display of the Confederate flag on Naval Bases. The Commandant of the Marine Corps extended his ban on it to bumper stickers, and flags on cars, clothing, or displayed in barracks rooms. Governors, Mayors, and City Councils began to order or debate the removal of statues on public grounds. The Army announced that it would consider renaming bases named in honor of former Confederate Generals, only to have Trump defend names of the bases and state that they would not be renamed. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted that the bases should be renamed and included that in the National Defense Authorization Act, which the President has promised to veto if the amendment was included.

But last night at least two important Confederate Monuments were toppled or so heavily damaged before authorities could have them removed. The first was the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Richmond’s Monuments Boulevard, which was toppled from its base. The other was Portsmouth, Virginia’s monument to “Our Confederate Dead.” The city council had taken up a discussion about removing the monument, but demonstrators accompanied by a brass band with no police intervention, heavily damaged it amid a party like atmosphere.

Truthfully, it reminded me of when East Germans tore down the wall, and other Easter European nations topped statues of Stalin and other Communist leaders in 1989 as they overthrew their Communist governments. Sadly, it was marred when one man trying to clear people out of the way of a statue that was being pulled down was pinned under it and seriously injured.

Context is Everything

Why they Fought: Willing Volunteers or Draftees

The context of the placement of the Confederate Monuments is paramount as I will explain, and my comments are not meant to impugn the lives of people’s ancestors. However, what motivated these men to fight is part of the context. Many, who were not professional soldiers, especially early in the war were eager and willing volunteers with dreams of glory, speedy victory, and return to normal life after the Confederacy achieved independence. While many did not own slaves, and were poor, the fact that they were White, meant that they were at least not at the bottom of the social ladder. Likewise, some slave owners, some who held many and others just a few felt strong enough to join up.

My family on both my paternal and maternal sides fought as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry on the side of the Confederacy, despite their part of Virginia officially siding with the Union and becoming the state of West Virginia. One of them, the family patriarch on my paternal side was a slave holder who after the war refused to swear his allegiance to the United States and quite possibly was a member of White Supremacist groups after the war. There is no doubt of what he fought for, and the fact that he was a traitor and remained a traitor to our country.

I don’t know as many details about the maternal side except they were part of the same regiment, none were subject to conscription and as such all volunteered willingly to fight against the United States. For me that is a problem, I find it hard to honor their military service because it was against the United States. There are no records that I know of, no letters that they wrote which say what they thought, and they are not “mentioned in dispatches” (the manner in which the Confederate Army honored soldiers) for any particular gallantry, in fact the history of the regiment mentions that my paternal family patriarch, an officer, deserted in February of 1865.

I also have draw a distinction between the kinds of men that served in the Confederate Army. In particular I make a distinction between those that were eager volunteers for the Confederacy, like my ancestors, and those who were unwilling conscripted in the Confederate Draft beginning in early 1862. Interestingly enough the Confederates resorted to a draft before the Union because the Confederate Army could not get enough willing volunteers. These men were drafted, often against their will, and the Confederate draft had exemptions for the rich, and slave owners, who could pay for substitutes, and go on with their life running plantations. However, a few notable slave owners, like Wade Hampton of South Carolina not only did  not take advantage of that privilege, to volunteer, but Hampton went beyond volunteering, but actually armed and equipped what was in effect a combined arms regiment of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. He was a volunteer, who had never served in the U.S. Army and he served throughout the war, serving with distinction, and went home to nothing.

Most of the soldiers drafted had no means to pay for a substitute or did not have the political connections to escape it. Interestingly one of the notable exemptions to the Confederate Draft were the men who were exempted because they owned more than ten slaves or worked for someone that owned more than 20 slaves. This was known as the Twenty Slave Rule, which was modified in Draft Law of 1864 to 15 slaves. As you can imagine many poor Whites who owned no slaves found the rule to be quite unjust, but this kind of privilege is just that, quite unjust.

As a result the conscripts were frequently abused by the willing volunteers and their commanders, and frequently deserted. When found, most were summarily executed following a Drumhead Trial. As the war became more desperate, deserters were summarily executed without any trial. Hundreds of deserters from the Army of Northern Virginia were executed in the last months of the war by the direct order of Robert E. Lee simply because they were trying to go home to their families who had been displaced by the advance of Sherman’s army in Georgia and the Carolinas. These men were victims of the war and secessionist leaders as much as anyone. If you read some of their letters they are heartbreaking.

All of those who volunteered to serve the Confederate cause were traitors. But the men who had previously been officers in the United States Army or Navy, or in high Federal office, were far worse, because they broke their oath of office. No-matter their reason for serving the Confederacy, none of their their gallantry as soldiers, battlefield heroics, leadership skills, or tactical brilliance matters because they were traitors to the United States. Yes they were Americans, and many had served honorably before the Civil War, but that makes them no less traitors.

After the war a some of the survivors reconciled with the Union, and openly opposed the growing myth of the Lost Cause, and took no part in subsequent violence or in implementing discriminatory measures against the now free Blacks. Among the most prominent of these men were Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, John Mosby, and Billy Mahone. I have little doubt that A.P. Hill would have joined them had he not been killed in action at the end of the war. Following the war Hill’s widow opposed Jubal Early and other proponents of the Lost Cause.

Longstreet, received a pardon and his citizenship with the help of the Radical Republicans who were most vocal in terms of Reconstruction, and he announced his support for the election of Ulysses S. Grant in the 1868 election. For this he was condemned by many former Confederates. He received an appointment as Surveyor of Customs New Orleans. In 1872 he was appointed as head of the Louisiana Militia, by the Republican Governor. In 1873 he sent troops to stop the threat of an attack on the majority Black town of Colfax, but they arrived a day after several hundred members of the White League committed what is now known as the Colfax Massacre. In 1874 he led the New Orleans Police, and local militia, including Blacks to defend the temporary capital against a force of more than 8,400 members of the White League, which outnumbered his force by more than two to one. The action became known as the Battle of Liberty Place by opponents of Reconstruction and White Supremacists. During the action he was wounded, his men defeated and Grant sent in Federal troops to restore order. The supporters of the Lost Cause despised him because he told the truth when they claimed that States Rights, not Slavery. Longstreet on hearing this, said “I never heard of any other cause of the quarrel than slavery.” Longstreet in word and deed proved his loyalty. Despite the fact he was one of the corps commanders in American history, and stood for what was right after the war he did not get a Fort named after him.

Robert E. Lee himself did reconcile and opposed the use of the Confederate flags, uniforms, and monuments, after the war, but still held very racist views and never apologized for his actions. I will explore Lee’s actions during the secession crisis, during, and after the war the at a later time because for the most part they are neither honorable or noble.

Interestingly, very few monuments, except those on battlefields are dedicated to these men in the South, except for Robert E. Lee who ironically wanted no part of them. Nor are there monuments in the South to Southern officers who remained loyal to the Union during the war including Generals Winfield Scott, George Thomas, John Buford, John Gibbon, Montgomery Miegs, and Admiral David Farragut.

Likewise there is another class of men who have to be considered when dealing with the Monument Controversy. These were the political leaders whose actions led directly to the deaths of three quarters of a million men, including hundreds of thousands of Southern men, and the destruction of much of the South. How even the most devoted Southerner who wants to honor their soldiers can tolerate monuments to these political leaders who got so many of them killed  in their back yards is beyond me. These were also the men who ensured that primary reason for secession given in their various articles of secession for each state was preserving and expanding slavery, while maintaining white superiority. As Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens noted in his Cornerstone Speech:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

There is a final group that needs to be considered. These were Confederate veterans, including notables like General Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as men who did not serve in the war who joined paramilitaries such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, and the White Leagues, that terrorized and killed newly free blacks, sometimes destroying whole towns or neighborhoods in the process.  There were others politicians, turned soldiers, and went into politics again who established the Black Codes. These were pre-Jim Crow laws that placed many former slaves into a form of slavery by other means, imprisoning them and making them forced laborers on plantations, and businesses, many owned by Northerners.

Racism and slavery was at the heart of the war, and it proved to be not just a Southern problem. Many Northern businesses and banks had a strong financial interest in slavery, and there was a strong anti-war, pro-Confederate movement, known as the Copperheads in the North that fully approved of slavery, the post-war Black Codes, and Jim Crow. Likewise there were many Northerners who were just as racist as any Southerner, before, during and after the war. There were and are still are some  Sundown Towns, though they don’t openly say so, in the North and states that were never a part of the Confederacy. In no way can all Northerners be fully excused from the crime of slavery, nor can many be absolved of being as racist any pro-slavery Confederate or Jim Crow proponent. Some of these men have monuments built in their honor which likewise should be examined if we are going to talk about the Confederate monuments.

As to the monuments themselves, the vast majority were erected after the Plessy v. Ferguson case that legalized the Jim Crow Laws and empowered the movement to disenfranchise blacks, to fire them from positions in Federal and State governments, and to use violence against Blacks to keep them in line. Almost all of the monuments which were erected between 1895 and 1930 were put up not to honor the men who served but to remind Blacks of their status. The same is true of the next major surge of monument building which occurred during the Civil Rights movement, again to demonstrate to Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, and many of these monuments were erected in places where no Confederate soldiers came from, and others which commemorate men who committed terrorist acts and murder against Blacks in the years after the war. In many case these monuments are located in cities and towns that are heavily African American. Two of these are no far from where I live in Norfolk and Portsmouth Virginia. They have different histories which I think leads to a discussion about their context.

Context and Placement Matter

Alexander Pope wrote “Monuments, like men, submit to fate.” 

Instead of going directly into what I think should be done with these monuments but think that a little bit more background and context is necessary. That context is best put in the difference between history and memory. History, is made by people because it has real world effects cannot be erased because for good or bad its effects always are with us. Memory on the other hand is often selective and tends toward sentimentally, or our sense of anger, or grief  over over past losses or the loss of a mythological past.  Because of that, memory often leads to the preservation of things that provide us with a certain sense of comfort, or things that buttress our innate sense of superiority and desire for revenge.

Statues and monuments themselves have to be taken in their historical context: especially what they meant to the people that erected them and the era in which they were constructed. From time immemorial people and nations have erected statues and monuments to dieties, empowers, kings, generals, and yes, even philosophers and historians. They have also sought to commemorate the lives of soldiers who died in various wars, in part to honor their dead, as did the ancient Athenians at Kerameikos, but more often to build upon a sense of national myth and purpose, to link the sacrifices of yesterday’s leaders, or soldiers to their current generation’s political, social, and even spiritual urges.

Some religions like Judaism and Islam have traditionally frowned upon the erection of statues and images that represented their dieties, their saints, or their leaders, fearing that such images could lead to idolatry. There was even a constroversy in the Christian Church, the Iconoclast Controversywhich dealt with the issues of statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or Saints which took more than a hundred years to resolve.

In Western society, especially since the Romans there has been a conscious attempt by nations to built statues and monuments to their leaders and other men, as women seldom rated such honor, whether the men actually deserved honor or not. As such there are monuments across Europe in prominent places to honor men with political, social, hereditary, or economic connections. Often when compared to their contemporaries, or others, before or after them, did little to be heirs to such honor. This does not mean that they were necessarily bad people, or even unworthy of the honor of their time, but rather that they are undeserving of perpetual honor in the most public of locations, or in places unconnected with where they made their name.

Cemeteries and museums are the best places for statues which have past their effective life in the public square. Removing them from places of honor does nothing to harm history, nor does it write them out of history. I like how the Old Testament writers of the books of the Kings and Chronicles end their discussions of the kings of Israel and Judah. They note that these men’s lives and deeds, good and evil, are written about and where they were buried to be with their ancestors. An example of the is Jehu, one of the kings of Israel in the book of Second Kings: “Now the rest of the acts of Jehu, all that he did, and all his power, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?”

Since the Jews of the Old Testament did not build statues to their leaders for fear of idolatry, they ensured through the oral, and later the written tradition that these leaders, the good and the bad, were remembered for their work and contributions, as well as their failures. The Islamic tradition is quite similar.

The ancient Greeks, particularly those of Athens chose to use the cemetery as a place to remember their dead. In dedicating the Mount Auburn Cemetery during the Greek revival, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.”

Cemeteries are always places where the dead can be honored or remembered, and where their descendants can find comfort and even sense the presence of their departed ancestors.

But the public square is another matter. Times change, societies change, governments and systems of governmental change. The statues that the early colonists of the British American colonies erected to King George III after the French and Indian War, had no place in the new republic and were removed. Monuments to Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin where removed from their places of prominence in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania once those countries escaped Soviet domination. After the Second World War, the new Federal Republic of Germany banned any monuments to Nazi Leaders as well as the use or display of Nazi paraphernalia. Instead, resisters to the Nazis, as well as the victims of the Nazis have been honored and remembered, especially those killed in the Holocaust. Since reunification Germany has continued to honor the victims and resistors much to the new generation of Germans born in the former East who know little about the evil of the Nazis and seek to follow their example.

However, when a monument is located in prominent place it makes a statement about the values and character of the people who put it there and the times in which they lived. But as I said, times changes, as do societal values, and in the case of the cause of the Civil War, so do views on race and the value of other human beings.

Statues in public places dedicated to specific individuals or events tend to have a shelf life, which means that they regardless of who they are dedicated, to need to be periodically re-examined in the light of history to see if they should remain in their current place of honor or be moved to a different location.

But, the United States is a comparatively young country, our oldest monuments are likewise comparatively new, and many pale in comparison to those of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In those areas multiple civilizations and empire have risen and fallen, massive monuments have been erected, toppled, or faded away. Many surviving monuments now are in museums, in collections of antiquity representing fallen civilizations, or have been moved from places of honor and replaced by ones that more appropriately represent the current national culture and experience.

As we approach the first quarter millenium of our experiment as a republic it is a good time to look at what we have commemorated with monuments and make considered decisions about each of them, and not just Confederate monuments.

Obviously many, especially those that deal with our founding as a nation and our founders need to stay, but others should be replaced, or removed to more appropriate venues. In cases of monuments that memorialize the most shameful parts of our history, and men whose actions subjected others to inhuman treatment, and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands we do have options of what to do with them which now have to be exercised.

One option could be to leave them where they are and place other monuments and markers to explain the historical context and promote truthful history versus myth, as we have with men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  In both cases we honor the good but we own up to other things about them.

Another option is to remove them, but what replaces them should be well thought out. This actually goes beyond the monuments themselves. Our actions have to do with history, historical preservation, and the narrative that a community wants to communicate about its history, its values, and yes, even its future. Whatever replaces the monuments we replaced, for good or bad in the long run, are part of what bind generations together, or drives them apart.

A third option is destroying them,  especially those dedicated to men who were evil, or represented evil causes. In the case of many of the relatively generic mass produced monuments to Confederates during the Plessy v. Ferguson and Civil Rights Era, the monuments were not placed to honor long dead soldiers but to stick a finger in the eyes of Blacks, and defy those who called for more than emancipation, but true equality.

It think in the case of truly evil men that their statues and monuments should be placed in poorly kept parks, at eye level with other statues like them. This allows people to view them not as exalted figures, but as for their littleness and evil.  A number of Eastern European countries have done this with statues of Stalin, Lenin, and others from the Soviet era.

But the generic mass produced ones are another matter. They are of no particular quality, their value only in reminding Blacks that they are despised.They should be removed, and if someone wants them as a backyard ornament, or if someone wants them to stand guard over the graves of Confederate dead as they lay in repose. That may be the best option, but there are so many of them.

The placement or monuments is of more importance than their existence, and their contexts matter. Honore De Balzac noted: “With monuments as with men, position means everything.

Removal, Relocation, Preservation, or Destruction: What Now?

It is interesting to see how memory and myth cloud history when it comes to monuments, especially those to the Southern Confederacy. This confederacy that was described by its Vice President, former US Senator Alexander Stephens in these words:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” 

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who so many monuments are dedicated was not happy with his Vice President’s remarks. This was not because he didn’t believe them himself,  but because Stephens honesty could hurt the cause of the Confederacy abroad. Davis knew that France and Britain had to recognize and support the Confederacy was to survive.  He noted:

“That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.” 

How President Trump’s closest advisors, who tend to be better read than him, cannot understand the purely Machiavellian words of Jefferson Davis is beyond me. How they think that openly proclaiming racism is harmful to their policies and political goals is beyond me. Likewise how the President can tweet it or repeat them can only be described in three ways: he is no political genius, he is completely ignorant of history, or that he really is the embodiment of evil. I don’t see any other choices.

The sad fact is that the vast majority of the Confederate monuments, wherever located, were not built to honor the several hundred thousand Confederate dead; but rather to remind Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, wherever the were erected. They are monuments to White Supremacy, racism, and to intimidate Blacks in the public square.

This is most evident by looking the periods during which they were constructed, eras in which discrimination, intimidation, and violence against Blacks was predominant. Very few were built in the first two decades following the war, but the first big surge in construction came in the aftermath of Plessy v. Ferguson in the 1890s the although some of those, including the monument which was for the most part destroyed in Portsmouth, Virginia last night were funded  by the wives, mothers, and children of the fallen; were not erected until the 1890s as every right of Blacks was stripped away, not just in the South, but in the entire United States.

Honestly I cannot understand why any of these monuments remain where they are some 155  years later, unless the context of their construction and monuments or historical narratives to the victims of the Confederacy and the institution of Souther Slavery are placed alongside. I am hard pressed to explain why they remain in places of honor. Instead if displayed they should be displayed as symbols of shame next to monuments dedicated to the victims of slavery, and those who fought to destroy it, along with historical exhibits that show the depth of the evil of the era and the suffering or the victims, as otherwise good people watched everything and did nothing.

But most memorials to the Confederate dead memorials, the very few that were built other than expressions of White Supremacy are a tiny minority. Most of the Confederate monuments that spark such freak show of White grievance today were erected anywhere from 30 to 150 years after the war.

The periods that they were built are interesting of themselves. The biggest spike in construction began in the immediate aftermath of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that legalized Jim Crow and the second during the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement beginning around 1948. The chart below provides a good representation of when the Confederate monuments were built.

As I mentioned I think that each monument should be examined based on its historical merit. Since the vast majority of these monuments happen to be from the days of the Confederate resurgence after Plessy and at the height of the Dixiecrat response to the Civil Rights movement beginning after Brown v. Board of Education which overturned Plessy in 1954, there is nothing redeeming in the vast majority of them.

So I am going to use the example of the monuments in Hampton Roads area as a teaching point.

In the Commonwealth Virginia where I live, there were 223 Confederate monuments standing at the time of Charlottesville, the most of any state. That is in a sense understandable due to it being the largest state in the Confederacy as well as the site of its capital. There are three major public monuments located in South Hampton Roads as well as a number of monuments in local cemeteries throughout the area.

The one located in Portsmouth is the oldest and the most interesting from a historical point of view. Planning and fund raising for it began in the late 1860s shortly after the war and it was dedicated on the site where slaves were whipped and punished in the town square. It was dedicated in 1893. The head of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter say that it was placed there when a church where it was planned to be located backed out. I do not know the veracity of that claim. That being said the location is still problematic, especially since Portsmouth has been a large Black population,  and many of the Black families in Portsmouth trace their roots to the slaves of the city’s ante-bellum times.

The monument itself was, before its destruction last night most interesting monuments that I have seen. It is an imposing sight in the old court square. At its center is an obelisk on which is inscribed To Our Confederate Dead. The obelisk is surrounded by four statues representing an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artillleryman, and a sailor. It was one of the most impressive Confederate monuments I have seen, but despite the fact that it was funded by war widows and their families, it could not remain in place. It stood in the place where slaves were auctioned and a block from where they were held in deplorable conditions until they were auctioned off like cattle.

Three years ago I thought it be would fitting if the monument was moved in its entirety to a cemetery in the city where Confederate war dead are buried. It could be replaced by any number of monuments, perhaps one to the Portsmouth’s war dead from the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and the current wars which have been going on since 2001, or maybe even better a monument to the victims of slavery, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow with an adjoining historical and research center. The Germans do this with concentration camps. However after it was shattered on June 10th, I think that it it is time for it to be removed. I think that if its supporters want they can pay for it to have dismantled, removed,  and restored so it can be displayed in a private location out of public view, they can. However, I think that maybe the city to move it to a less prominent position and leave it the way it is as a reminder to future generations, with an explanation of where it stood and why it stood there. It would kind of be like the preserved remnants of the Berlin Wall.


Norfolk’s monument is another case in point. After Portsmouth’s monument was destroyed, Norfolk’s Mayor announced that the statue crowning it would be removed in 24 hours weather permitting, and that the monument it stood on would be removed within two weeks. I wish that Portsmouth had the sense to do that in 2017, or even two weeks ago. The statue was removed today and the rest of the monument will follow.

Norfolk’s monument, where is, or is soon to be was, located within a block of where Norfolk’s slave auctions took place, the slave jail, and  slave infirmary  were located, and but a few blocks from the docks where slaves were shipped to other destinations in the South. This is important because Norfolk was the leading port in the slave trade from about the 1830s until the outbreak of the Civil War, and that was not because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but to the trafficking of slaves already born in the United States.

The monument was over 80 feet tall. When it was built it towered over the city. In the years since it still occupied a prominent position in the center of the city, but now has been dwarfed by massive towers representing banks, businesses, and hotels. It was capped by the figure of a defiant Confederate soldier holding a sword and the Confederate flag, nicknamed Johnny Reb. At its base are engravings of the Confederate Battle Flag and a dedication to Our Confederate Dead. It was lake the others aWhite Supremacy. The city should make a prudent and well informed decision of what to do with it.


In Virginia Beach the Confederate Monument is outside the old Princess Anne County Courthouse where slave auctions were held, and which is on the grounds of the current Virginia Beach Municipal complex. In older times it would have been seen by all entering the city hall or courts for any reason. It is over 20 feet tall and topped by the statue of a Confederate infantryman. Unlike the other monuments simply dedicated to the dead. Instead this one is dedicated to Our Confederate Heroes.

Now compared to the Norfolk or Portsmouth memorials it is in a distinctly less visible location and one has to go out of their way to find it. I think it could remain where it is but only if there was monument to the victims of slavery who were bought and sold there. That would provide appropriate context for it. However, there is something about being dedicated to Confederate Heroes which has no appropriate place in the public square. Its design is unremarkable. It was dedicated not long after Plessy v. Ferguson. Likewise, it was located where slave auctions were held in a county that provided very few soldiers to the Confederate cause. This it can only be interpreted one way, to remind people that Blacks are inferior. I think that it should be removed and destroyed as there is nothing that it commemorates, that is worth preserving, even in a museum or cemetery.

There is one other located in our area. It is in the Denbeigh section of Newport News, at site of the old Warwick County Courthouse. Denbeigh was named after the Denbeigh Plantation. When the county seat was moved to Newport News when Denbeigh and Warwick county were consolidated as the independent city of Newport News in 1958.

The courthouse is now a museum. The monument, which was dedicated in 1909 to the men of Company H, 32nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, stands outside the museum. The regiment, recruited from the Peninsula in early 1861 had a number of companies farmed out to the artillery was reconstituted as a small, 7 company regiment in 1862. It was decimated at Antietam and served to the end of the war with the Army of Northern Virginia where just five officers and forty-two enlisted men surrendered with Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9th 1865. Since this monument is dedicated to a specific unit which distinguished itself in numerous engagements, including Antietam, and Petersburg I think that relocating it to one of those battlefields where it fought would be completely appropriate. Leaving it in place is more problematic. The Newport News City Council decided to cover it until they could decide what to do and requests have been made for its removal.

All of these monuments served a twofold purpose. In the case of Portsmouth, it began with monetary donations from war widows and for a monument was to honor the fallen. By the time it was built that purpose was also mixed with the political desire of many whites to re-establish White Supremacy. As to monuments located in cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are interred it is only fitting that they remain where they are, those are the places of their repose. My only objection would be to displays of the Confederate Battle Flag in those cemeteries.

As to what should be done with each monument there are options, but what can actually be done with them are dictated by State Laws which stipulates that localities can erect monuments like the former law of Virginia which stipulated that the state cannot “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.” That was problem for the Virginia legislature finally changed the law. Last week Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam ordered the monument to Robert E. Lee on Richmond’s Monument Boulevard be removed. His order was temporarily stayed by a Federal District Judge after objections by a avowed Confederate sympathizer currently running for office in Northern Virginia.

As a historian I think that all of these monuments can serve as teaching points. Likewise,  whatever is done with them has to be the to context of the context of when and why they were erected in relation to slavery, and White Supremacy. Additionally, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow needs to be clarified as part of teaching history and in the process of expunging the myths of the Lost Cause and the Noble South from the historical narrative.

I want to make a couple of points. First I do not think it is wrong for the relatives and descendants of those who fell in any war to want to remember them, but that should not be these memorials. I have traveled throughout Europe and I have seen the monuments in city squares Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany. These monuments list the names of the war dead of those towns in wars dating back to the Napoleonic era and before and many are in churchyard cemeteries.  Even if I disagree wth the cause that they fought for I will not forbid their descendants to honor their memory, even if I for reasons of conscience refuse to honor the military service of my ancestors who rebelled against the United States in 1861. I may carry their blood and DNA, and they will remain part of my heritage, but I cannot honor or memorialize the cause for which they fought.

I think that the remaining Confederate monuments serve no purpose where they are. I have described what I think would be best done with the ones in our local era. But they have to be replaced. I would suggest that they be replaced by monuments to victims of slavery, the unwilling conscripts pressed into service of an immoral and inhuman cause, and those who opposed that cause, before, during, and after the war, and learning centers staffed by trained historians and archivists who are not out to promote the Noble South and Lost Cause myths.

Norfolk’s monument is in the process of being removed, Portsmouth’s, now mostly destroyed, should be removed. I have already discussed the Virginia Beach and Newport News monuments, the fates of which are yet to be decided. The same is true for many other of the Confederate monuments throughout the South. In the last two weeks But, at the same time we have to address the monuments to Confederate leaders which built during the same time period as these generic representations of Confederate soldiers. The fact is that the leaders of the Confederate rebellion against the United States are much more responsible for the deaths of three quarters of a million soldiers and the devastation of the South than any ordinary soldier. These leaders include the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, secessionist politicians like Henry Benning and military leaders like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Braxton Bragg. I see little reason for monuments to men who were responsible for such great suffering to remain in places of honor.

But honestly even this is not enough. We have to remove the the monuments or do something to explain their presence. Likewise, in order to do justice, we have to fully tell the story of the victims of slavery, the Black Codes, and “Southern Justice.” Likewise, we have to also honor the Southern Unionists like George Thomas, Montgomery Meigs and Winfield Scott who did not forsake their oaths the the country, and remember men like Robert E. Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, Billy Mahone, and John Mosby who fully reconciled to the Union, supported the rights of Blacks, and who were deomonized and then written out of Southern history by the proponents of the Lost Cause.

So anyway, monuments to the Confederacy, its leaders, and those in other parts of the country dedicated to others of questionable merit, must be held to the bar of history, otherwise we mock all of their victims by keeping them in the public square long after their time is up. We will also really look hard at schools, highways, streets, named after the leaders of the Confederacy.

I will deal with the Forts tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, historic preservation, History, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, war crimes

“If I Offended You… I’m not in the least Sorry” The Liberation of Buchenwald at 75

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

During our trip to Germany last year we visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, which as a Major Camp had numerous sub-Camps, including Ohrdruf which Generals George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower visited shortly after its liberation in April 1945. Both went out of their way to describe the horrors they saw.

In our day there are fewer and fewer people who lived through or personal saw or documented the evils of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Likewise, there are a host of Holocaust deniers who produce a plethora of pseudo-scholarly articles claiming to be legitimate historians. Even more frighteningly the rise of apologists for the Nazi regime including those who are active members of allegedly conservative parties in the United States and the European Union is beginning to influence politics. The abject racism, rejection of anyone considered racially inferior, and quite often their unhidden anti-Semitism show that what lies in the dark heart of Naziism is not dead and in fact is rising.

In the United States its rise is being fueled and legitimized by the Presidency of Donald Trump who has referred to American Nazis and White Supremacists as “very good people” after one of their protests where an anti-Nazi demonstrator was murdered and others brutally attacked. In the same time frame a good number of Republican candidates have exposed themselves as White Supremacists and actual Nazis while running for office. A host of new-Nazi and White supremacist organizations openly meet and flood the internet with their race hatred, and it goes unchecked by the Administration and the Justice Department.

The fact is that anyone who denies the Holocaust, attempts to minimize it, or advocates the same policies of race hatred and violence against political, religious, or other opponents is no better than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Likewise, those who stand by and say nothing are worse. As Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The good thing is that there were people who took the time to record what they saw in the Nazi Concentration Camps and exposed those deeds to the world in such a way that only perverted and evil people could brazenly deny those facts.

One of the most detailed descriptions of a liberated Concentration Camp was written by General George Patton in his memoirs entitled War as I Knew It.

… we drove to Ohrdruf and visited the first horror camp any of us had ever seen. It was the most appalling sight imaginable.

A man who said he was one of the former inmates acted as impresario and showed us first the gallows, where men were hanged for attempting to escape. The drop board was about two feet from the ground, and the cord used was piano wire which had an adjustment so that when the man dropped, his toes would just reach the ground and it would take about fifteen minutes for him to choke to death, since the fall was not sufficient to break his neck. The next two men to die had to kick the board out from under him. It was stated by some of the Germans present that the generals who were executed after the Hitler bomb incident were hanged in this manner.

Our guide then took us to the whipping table, which was about the height of the average man’s crotch. The feet were placed in stocks on the ground and the man was pulled over the table, which was slightly hollowed, and held by two guards, while he was beaten across the back and loins. The stick which they said had been used, and which had some blood on it, was bigger than the handle of a pick.

Our guide claimed that he himself had received twenty-five blows with this tool. It later developed that he was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners. General Eisenhower must have suspected it, because he asked the man very pointedly how he could be so fat. He was found dead next morning, killed by some of the inmates.

Just beyond the whipping table there was a pile of forty bodies, more or less naked. All of these had been shot in the back of the head at short range, and the blood was still cooling on the ground.

In a shed near-by was a pile of forty completely naked bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime – not, apparently, for the purpose of destroying them, but to reduce the smell. As a reducer of smell, lime is a very inefficient medium.

The total capacity of the shed looked to me to be about two hundred bodies. It was stated that bodies were left until the shed was full and then they were taken out and buried. The inmates said some three thousand people had been buried from this shed since January 1, 1945.

When our troops began to draw near, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes. They therefore used the inmates to exhume the recently buried bodies and to build a sort of mammoth griddle of 60 cm. railway tracks laid on a brick foundation. The bodies were piled on this and they attempted to burn them. The attempt was a bad failure. Actually, one could not help but think of some gigantic cannibalistic barbecue. In the pit itself were arms and legs and portions of bodies sticking out of the green water which partially filled it.

General Walker and General Middleton had wisely decided to have as many soldiers as possible visit the scene. This gave me the idea of having the inhabitants themselves visit the camp. I suggested this to Walker, and found that he had already had the mayor and his wife take a look at it. On going home those two committed suicide. We later used the same system in having the inhabitants of Weimar go through the even larger slave camp (Buchenwald) north of that town. (Excerpted for G. Patton War as I Knew It)

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote after seeing the camp:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

One of those reporters was Edward R. Murrow who broadcast his visit to Buchenwald:

There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing….

[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.

They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.

As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.

In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts….

We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man’s feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.

I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge….showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We’re very efficient here.”

We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.

I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn’t possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.

But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?

I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words. 

If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry….

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime. The late Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian philosopher and survivor of Auschwitz wrote: “It happened, it can happen again.” 

I will now quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.

That is our reality. There are people, even neighbors and those that we think are friends who would become perpetrators or remain bystanders when those that transgress the way of Trump . I would love to be wrong about this, but I am a historian and a theologian and I know the human condition far too well to sit back and remain silent, no matter what the cost.

I often quote historian Timothy Snyder, but he was all too correct when he wrote these words about three and a half years ago:

The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.

If you don’t believe me read the words of the President, his closest supporters, the prominent political preachers of the Christian Right, and any number of Trump leaning columnists, pundits, and politicians. There are some who are so far gone that they will accuse any opponent of being disloyal, not the the Constitution or the law but to President Trump.

Some of the preachers even blame the Jews for the current Coronavirus 19 pandemic, as well as abortion and pornography. One, a supposed “Christian Pastor” and I use those two words loosely, named Rick Wiles specifically blamed the Jews for controlling abortion and pornography. He said that President Trump wouldn’t take executive action to shut down porn or abortion because his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jarod Kushner are Jews. Earlier in the month he blamed the Jews for Coronavirus as well. I can fault Jarod and Ivanka for much, but being Jews or being responsible for abortion and pornography, my God no. Sadly, there a lot more like Wiles out there.

Others don’t directly blame the Jews, but use other terms coined by the American and German eugenicists in the 1920s, 1930s, and were finally put into action by the Nazis in 1939. These people, often very learned decided that others, particularly the elderly, the chronically sick, the mentally ill, the physically or mentally disabled, “asocials”, babies born with disabilities or illnesses, were not worth keeping alive. Bill O’Reilly, formerly of Fox News described most of the victims of the virus “were on their last legs anyway.”  His words reminded me of the terms of the eugenicists and the Nazi killers, “Life unworthy of life.” 

In 2018, one of those people tried to get my commanding officer to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in which he lied about what I said. I had to spend my money to hire a lawyer to defend me from the false charges and have them dismissed during the preliminary investigation.

No we are living in the middle of a deadly pandemic that has officially killed over 20,000 Americans, infected a half million more, and has a death rate of 41% among resolved cases, that is those who have died or survived the virus. Sadly, that number represents under 10% of the total official number of cases, of which around 481,00o are still active. Within weeks the economy has crashed, and the unemployment rate is over 10%. Mass graves for the dead are being dug in New York.

If the President desired to use them, there are a host of Executive Orders that would give him nearly absolute power. I am sure that his executive centric Attorney General, Bob Barr would no doubt implement in order to secure total power. So far the President has not shown the will to truly wield his executive powers during the current national emergency. For the first time all 50 States are under emergency declarations. I hope that the President resists the urge to listen to people like the Attorney General, or anyone advocating such action.

Trust me, if this happens and we lat it go, our fate will be worse than that of Nazi Germany because we should have known better. We should have learned from Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. We should have learned fro Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, we should have learned from the Nuremberg trials, but we have not.

So with all of that happy commentary I will leave you until tomorrow.

Until then have a good night, and please, never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail in the Age of Trump

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Recently I posted an article that mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 

I included the link to the letter in my article, but I realize that most people, unlike me we not follow a link to get to the original source of the information supplied.

For those that don’t understand, my position as a Priest, if I am actually to be faithful to my vows requires that I be faithful to the Gospel. Sometimes that vow requires stating things that some in denial of their own faith would condemn as partisan politics. But this is not partisan, it echoes both the Christian and American propositions that all men are created equal.

With that in mind here is the full text of King’s letter. It is worthy of your full consideration and contemplation, and for that reason I make no editorial comments, although last year I did find Vice President Mike Pence’s comparison of President Trump to Dr. King abhorrent, insulting, and damnable.

On Monday the 20th of January, we as a nation remembered Dr. King. Many politicians offered their laudatory, yet hollow words of praise for a man whose legacy they work to destroy through legislation at the local, state, and federal level. Such words, especially when they come from men and women who beat their chest and pray loudly in the public square to demonstrate their Christian Faith, is damnable.

Likewise, it matters as we watch leaders of the Senate surrender to Donald Trump in his impeachment trial and see the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court ist silently as his legal team commits outright perjury, saying nothing and doing nothing. The question now is, will the nation founded on the bedrock of the Declaration of Independence, and the rule of law of the Constitution, including the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and every law increasing the rights of ordinary citizens, racial and religious minorities, women, and LGBTQ people, survive the Trump Presidency?

To make matters even more dangerous, thousands of alleged “Second Amendment” activists, many heavily armed with military grade assault weapons, massive amounts of ammunition, and wearing military and police grade protective gear marched protesting relatively minor changes to Virginia’s gun rights laws. Many of their words were aimed at threatening their opponents, and included in the mob of self proclaimed militiamen, were members of White Supremacy groups, including the KKK, Neo-Confederates, and Neo-Nazis. Since Dr. King was gunned down in cold blood by a White Supremacist, James Earl Ray, the participation of those groups in the march causes me to wonder why they stole a day commemorating an ambassador of peace, with their need for massive amounts of firearms. Debate still swirls around the contention that Ray had assistance from others, including people in the Federal Government, but I don’t consider myself knowledgeable to comment reliably on that.

Thus, it is fitting to read Dr. King’s unedited words from a letter from a Birmingham jail. Sadly, they are as applicable today as when he penned them. I can only hope, and pray that we survive all of this.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“If You Are Offended I am not In the Least Bit Sorry” Witnesses to Genocide: George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower and Edward R. Murrow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

During our trip to Germany last year we visited the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, which as a Major Camp had numerous sub-Camps, including Ohrdruf which Generals George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower visited shortly after its liberation in April 1945. Both went out of their way to describe the horrors they saw.

In our day there are fewer and fewer people who lived through or personal saw or documented the evils of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Likewise, there are a host of Holocaust deniers who produce a plethora of pseudo-scholarly articles claiming to be legitimate historians. Even more frighteningly the rise of apologists for the Nazi regime including those who are active members of allegedly conservative parties in the United States and the European Union is beginning to influence politics. The abject racism, rejection of anyone considered racially inferior, and quite often their unhidden anti-Semitism show that what lies in the dark heart of Naziism is not dead and in fact is rising.

In the United States its rise is being fueled and legitimized by the Presidency of Donald Trump who has referred to American Nazis and White Supremacists as “very good people” after one of their protests where an anti-Nazi demonstrator was murdered and others brutally attacked. In the same time frame a good number of Republican candidates have exposed themselves as White Supremacists and actual Nazis while running for office. A host of new-Nazi and White supremacist organizations openly meet and flood the internet with their race hatred, and it goes unchecked by the Administration and the Justice Department.

The fact is that anyone who denies the Holocaust, attempts to minimize it, or advocates the same policies of race hatred and violence against political, religious, or other opponents is no better than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Likewise, those who stand by and say nothing are worse. As Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The good thing is that there were people who took the time to record what they saw in the Nazi Concentration Camps and exposed those deeds to the world in such a way that only perverted and evil people could brazenly deny those facts.

One of the most detailed descriptions of a liberated Concentration Camp was written by General George Patton in his memoirs entitled War as I Knew It.

… we drove to Ohrdruf and visited the first horror camp any of us had ever seen. It was the most appalling sight imaginable.

A man who said he was one of the former inmates acted as impresario and showed us first the gallows, where men were hanged for attempting to escape. The drop board was about two feet from the ground, and the cord used was piano wire which had an adjustment so that when the man dropped, his toes would just reach the ground and it would take about fifteen minutes for him to choke to death, since the fall was not sufficient to break his neck. The next two men to die had to kick the board out from under him. It was stated by some of the Germans present that the generals who were executed after the Hitler bomb incident were hanged in this manner.

Our guide then took us to the whipping table, which was about the height of the average man’s crotch. The feet were placed in stocks on the ground and the man was pulled over the table, which was slightly hollowed, and held by two guards, while he was beaten across the back and loins. The stick which they said had been used, and which had some blood on it, was bigger than the handle of a pick.

Our guide claimed that he himself had received twenty-five blows with this tool. It later developed that he was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners. General Eisenhower must have suspected it, because he asked the man very pointedly how he could be so fat. He was found dead next morning, killed by some of the inmates.

Just beyond the whipping table there was a pile of forty bodies, more or less naked. All of these had been shot in the back of the head at short range, and the blood was still cooling on the ground.

In a shed near-by was a pile of forty completely naked bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime – not, apparently, for the purpose of destroying them, but to reduce the smell. As a reducer of smell, lime is a very inefficient medium.

The total capacity of the shed looked to me to be about two hundred bodies. It was stated that bodies were left until the shed was full and then they were taken out and buried. The inmates said some three thousand people had been buried from this shed since January 1, 1945.

When our troops began to draw near, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes. They therefore used the inmates to exhume the recently buried bodies and to build a sort of mammoth griddle of 60 cm. railway tracks laid on a brick foundation. The bodies were piled on this and they attempted to burn them. The attempt was a bad failure. Actually, one could not help but think of some gigantic cannibalistic barbecue. In the pit itself were arms and legs and portions of bodies sticking out of the green water which partially filled it.

General Walker and General Middleton had wisely decided to have as many soldiers as possible visit the scene. This gave me the idea of having the inhabitants themselves visit the camp. I suggested this to Walker, and found that he had already had the mayor and his wife take a look at it. On going home those two committed suicide. We later used the same system in having the inhabitants of Weimar go through the even larger slave camp (Buchenwald) north of that town. (Excerpted for G. Patton War as I Knew It)

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote after seeing the camp:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

One of those reporters was Edward R. Murrow who broadcast his visit to Buchenwald:

There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing….

[I] asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.

They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he had done or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242 — 242 out of 1200, in one month.

As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.

In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts….

We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man’s feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.

I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge….showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We’re very efficient here.”

We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.

I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn’t possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.

But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?

I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.I

If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry….

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, however, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime. The late Primo Levi, a Jewish Italian philosopher and survivor of Auschwitz wrote: “It happened, it can happen again.” 

I will now quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.

That is our reality. There are people, even neighbors and those that we think are friends who would be perpetrators or bystanders when those that transgress the way of Trump are take us from our homes and families because of our beliefs. I would love to be wrong about this, but I am a historian and a theologian and I know the human condition far too well to sit back and remain silent, no matter what the cost.

Last year I had a Facebook exchange with a friend who is a retired Navy Chaplain. He is very much a Trump supporter and apologist. He is very happy about Justice Kavanaugh being in the Supreme Court. The stories of the victims and their claims did not matter to him. Despite that I do not believe that he is a bad man or an evil person. I simply believe that like Martin Niemöller that he has made a bad choice in the man and party that he currently supports and that he will eventually regret it. I could be wrong, he might not turn out to be a Niemöller, but a Reichsbishof Müller. Sincerely hope that he does not become the latter.

I keep quoting historian Timothy Snyder, but he was all too correct when he wrote these words less than two years ago:

The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.

If you don’t believe me read the words of the President, his closest supporters, the prominent political preachers of the Christian Right, and any number of Trump leaning columnists, pundits, and politicians. There are some who are so far gone that they will accuse any opponent of being disloyal, not the the Constitution or the law but to President Trump.

Last year, one of those people tried to get my commanding officer to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in which he lied about what I said. I had to spend my money to hire a lawyer to defend me from the false charges and have them dismissed during the preliminary investigation.

Trust me, I know what resistance will mean if this President and his cult like followers are not stopped. Our fate will be worse than that of Nazi Germany because we should have known better. We should have learned from Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. We should have learned fro Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, we should have learned from the Nuremberg trials, but we have not.

Facing possible impeachment, and with a growing likelihood that the Democrats will extend their control of the House, possibly regain the Senate, and maybe defeat Trump in the 2020 elections, a desperate Trump, backed  by his true believers may very well attempt to circumvent those elections and impeachment hearings.  With the laws already enacted in the Patriot Act and numerous executive orders there is little to stop a President who has no respect for the law or the Constitution from declaring full emergency powers should any war, terrorist act, or natural disaster be declared. That’s what makes all of this so frightening. Trump only needs an event which is scary enough to frighten people into following any emergency decree. Americans wouldn’t be the first to do so, it’s human nature: the need for security overrides the need for the rule of law and freedom.

So with all of that happy commentary I will leave you until tomorrow.

Until then have a good night, and please, never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trump Tweets About a Domestic Nacht und Nebel Decree

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today President Trump tweeted something against the ANTFA which could be used against any domestic opponents if he tried to implement it. The tweet read:

”Conisteration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others). Would make it easier for police to do their job!”

Please note, I support the ANTIFA as much as I do White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK. That means I don’t. That being said ANTIFA efforts are always directed at events where the White Supremacy groups are gathered, and usually threading racial or religious, and LGBTQ supporters.

Most of their protests are peaceful, and unlike their opponents on the Right they are not a unified body and have no national organization. The political Right, especially the President tend to lump any opponent as ANTIFA. Likewise, unlike White Supremacist groups, which the FBI have labeled as extremist groups, the ANTIFA, which began as an Anti-Fascist and Anti-Nazi movement in the 1920s and 1930s, has not been labeled as such and despite my best efforts to find recent deaths attributed to them I cannot. On the other hand White Nationalist and Supremacist groups have killed far more Americans than any domestic terror organization. Thousands, dating back from Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement to Charlottesville have been systematical murdered by them.

But seriously, Senator Ted Cruz and GOP Representative Bill Cassidy Of Louisiana introduced legislation to label the ANTIFA as a Domestic Terror Organization. In fact they are nothing of the such, they are a disparate group of individuals with no national or statewide organization, unlike their opponents on the right. To be sure the last sentence of the Cruz-Cassidy legislation mentioned White Supremacist groups, but when the President and high administration officials defend those group daily it is hard to believe that such a law would be uniformly enforced.

I am sorry, unless one is willing to label the violent racist groups of the Right as domestic terror groups, and implement harsh policies against their violence and intimidation then this smacks of a Hitlerian Decree. It is a Reichstag Fire Decree and Night and Fog Decree wrapped into one unwholesome package, with dire impact for any person who writes or protests against the policies and actions of the Trump Administration.

Trump’s tweets and the legislation of Cruz and Cassidy are dangerous. They are going to lead to far worse. Do I think that the Cruz-Cassidy legislation ever being signed, but the President can do a lot with previously issued legislation and executive orders should he make the decision.

In Hitler’s Germany the Reichstag Fire Decree allowed his government under the Weimar Constitution to rule by decree and jail political opponents.   On March 10th 1933 the Malicious Practices Act made even the slightest dissent, including joking about or criticizing members of the Nazi government a crime, punishable by being sent to a Concentration Camp. On July 14th 1933 the Hitler government declared the Nazi Party to be the only legal political party. The previous Conservative and Center parties had either already dissolved themselves while the Communists and Socialists were outlawed. Formation of any new political parties was outlawed.

The Nuremberg Laws Of 1935 stripped the Jews of citizenship rights. The Nacht and Nebel Decree of December 7th 1941 was used as a way to eliminate resistance members and dissenters in occupied countries by either murdering them or shipping them to Concentration Camps.

Heinrich Himmler wrote on that day:

“After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose.”

Less than a week later Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel ordered the German military:

“Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal.” 

The President’s continued ill-regard for the Constitution, our laws, our system of government and the long established guardrails to prevent tyranny are increasing. The danger is real.

It is true that this is not Germany of 1933, and that Trump, despite some of his similarities is not Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin, but he is getting more dangerous with every passing day. The frightening thing is that he may find an already existing law or executive order to outlaw any opposition to him, and willing accomplices to enable him to do it.

After the Liberation, a Nacht und Nebel Prisoner’s Uniform 

Historian Timothy Snyder noted:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.” 

That is something we must ask ourselves today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Southern Justice at 55 Years: Why Must it be Denied and Forgotten?

normanrockwellsouthernjustice-2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fifty-Five years ago three young men working to register blacks to vote as part of the Freedom Summer in Mississippi were brutally murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. As a historian I am troubled as I see an increase in racially motivated hate crimes and displays of nooses left as threats at historically black institutions or places dedicated to remembering the Civil Rights movement. When I see the lack of empathy and the lack of concern shown for these crimes by white people, especially Evangelical Christians I wonder if we are sinking back into the abyss of Jim Crow.

I have dealt with Holocaust deniers many times and also plenty of people who find nothing wrong with American slavery, Jim Crow, and racism. I find it troubling that despite the forensic, and historical evidence that people can either deny, minimize, or rationalize such behavior.

The fact that the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination had to struggle with the issue of civil rights and the race hatred of the Alt-Right last week showed me that the toxin has not been purged from the Convention, or for that matter much of America. The fact that a man who is active in White Supremacist movements murdered two men and wounded a third as they defended Muslim women on a Portland Oregon commuter train was disturbing, as was the murder of a newly commissioned African American Army Lieutenant by a White Supremacist on the campus of the University of Maryland. Likewise there has been a spate of nooses being placed on college campuses, historically Black institutions, Civil Rights sites, and at the offices or residences of people who support civil rights, including professors.

southern justice 4

These troubling incidents have again reminded me of the events of June 21st 1964 when three men, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen. Twenty year old Andrew Goodman was from New York City. He was a progressive activist and Anthropology student at Queens College. Twenty-four year old Mickey Schwerner was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Both Goodman and Schwerner were Jewish and had come South to work with others for Civil Rights in Mississippi. The third man, James Cheney, was a twenty-one year old Black Mississippian. Chaney was from Meridian Mississippi and was a volunteer with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equity. All three men were there to assist community leaders with voter registration and education in conjunction with local churches.

On June 21st 1964 the three men were in Philadelphia Mississippi where they were investigating the burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church. The church had been working with CORE’s voter registration and education programs. In the wake of the church being burned, many black citizens and church members were beaten by whites, rumored to be aided by members of the local Sheriff’s office. They specifically accused Sheriff’s Deputy Cecil Price of abuse.

When Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were marked men from the moment they arrived. As they left the town the three were arrested for an alleged traffic violation. They were briefly jailed and released that evening, but were not allowed to make any phone calls. On the way back to Meridian, two carloads of Klan members forced their car off the road and then abducted them and murdered them. The bodies were not discovered for 44 days. Their disappearance brought national attention and a major investigation to the town. Eventually seven men, including Deputy Price were convicted of the murders. The murders and the investigation became the subject of the movie Mississippi Burning.

MississippiBurningPressRelease

Iconic American artist Norman Rockwell who was well known for his portraits of American life as well as his support for the Civil Rights movement, painted “Southern Justice” which is sometimes known as “Murder in Mississippi” in 1965. This was not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, which over the past decade has been under attack in many southern states and a key provision on racial gerrymandering was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2012.

Fifty-three years ago the murders of these three young men brought national attention to the pervasive racism and discrimination in the country. Before this event most murders, lynchings, as well as the burnings of homes businesses were left uncovered by the media, the victims forgotten and the perpetrators unpunished.

I do hope and pray that we never go back to those days, but there are a number of troubling issues for us in the United States today. The first is that there have been quite a few laws passed to limit voting rights in various states. Some of these have been successfully challenged in the courts and eventually one may make its way to the Supreme Court. Then there is the rapidly growing number of racially motivated hate crimes against Blacks and other minorities as well as the threat of nooses being placed in trees around historic sites and museums dedicated to minorities or civil rights. The Southern Poverty Law Commission monitors the activities of hate groups across the political, religious, and racial spectrum and has noted a sharp increase in attacks over the past two years, coinciding with the election of Donald Trump as President. Heavily armed and militant racist and anti-Semitic groups proudly march hand in hand with Trump supporters, allegedly to protect them from “leftists.”

I wonder if we will see a return to the commonplace violence and silence that characterized the nation’s treatment of minorities before the Civil Rights movement. You think that we have moved the chains so far and that it cannot happen again when before our very eyes it rises like an undead specter to claim new victims. Eternal vigilance is the guardian of freedom; we cannot allow the thousands who died before, and those who have died since these three young men to be forgotten. Too much is at stake.

In memory of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner and others of the Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights movement who died or suffered to peacefully bring about change to our society, I leave you until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, crime, culture, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Remembering the First Memorial Day

decoration-day1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is Memorial Day weekend and for the vast majority of Americans, even those who loudly claim to “support the troops” the weekend is little more than an opportunity to start the summer. There will be ball games and picnics, parties and concerts, as well as road trips, and some will even honor the military personnel that are currently serving; however, that is not why we observe Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is observed to honor the lives and sacrifice of those men and women who died in the service of the country. Its roots go back to May 1865 when newly freed Blacks in Charleston South Carolina took the time to honor the fallen Union soldiers by dedicating a cemetery to them. I’ll go back to that in a bit.

Frederick Douglass discussed the meaning of Memorial Day in 1884:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.”

Memorial Day, at one time known as Decoration Day is one of our most sacred civil holidays that we observe in the United States, or at least it should be. It was a holiday born out of the shedding of the blood of about 750,000 American soldiers, from the North and the South in the Civil War, a singular event that still echoes in our history and in some sense defines who we are and it is important that we come to understand its meaning and history.

racecourse_t600

The Racecourse Cemetery

The first observance of what we now know as Memorial Day is fascinating and it needs to be remembered. Frederick Douglass was absolutely right when he spoke the words that I began this article, and we need to remember the humble beginnings of this day which was first marked by recently freed slaves in Charleston South Carolina on May 1st 1865. They did so barely two weeks after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and three weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

The acrid smell of smoke of the last battles of the American Civil War was still lingering over many towns and cities in the South on May 1st 1865. Charleston, the hotbed of secession was particularly hard hit during the war. In 1861 Cadets of the Citadel and South Carolina militia forces began the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Union Forces laid siege to the city in late 1863, a siege which ended with the city’s surrender to Union forces under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman on 18 February 1865. The day of the surrender was somewhat ironic. Charleston, the city most associated with the opening of the conflict surrendered to Union forces on the fourth anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy. By the time of its surrender much of the city had been destroyed by Union siege artillery and naval forces.

As a Confederate stronghold Charleston had also been the home of three of the Prisoner of War Camps. One was located in the Charleston City Jail and the other at Castle Pinckney which had been one of the ante-bellum U.S. Army installations in the city. A third camp was erected on the site of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in 1864. This was an open air camp and Yale Historian David Blight wrote that “Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.”

By the end of the war most of the white population of the city had left and most of those remaining were recently freed slaves. After their liberation and the city’s occupation by Federal forces, which included the famous 54th Massachusetts as well as the 20th, 35th and 104th US Colored Troops Regiments; about 28 recently liberated Black men went to work and properly reinterred the 257 Union dead on the raceway and built a high fence around it. They inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course” on an arch above the cemetery entrance.

6a01b8d0781960970c01b7c7901048970b-320wi

On May 1st over 10,000 Black Charlestonians gathered at the site to honor the fallen. Psalms, Scriptures and prayers were said, hymns were sung and many brought flowers. A parade of 2800 children covered the burial ground with flowers. They were followed by members of the Patriotic Association of Colored Men and the Mutual Aid Society. This society’s members provided relief supplies to Freedmen and provided aid to bury those Blacks who were too poor to afford burial. More citizens followed many laying flower bouquets on the graves. Children then led the singing of The Star Spangled Banner, America and Rally around the Flag. The Brigade composed of the 54th Massachusetts and the 35th and 104th Colored Regiments marched in honor of their fallen comrades. Following the formalities many remained behind for a picnic.

Other communities established their own Memorial Day observances in the years following the war, but the event in Charleston was the first. The first “Official” commemoration was on 30 May 1868 when Union General John Logan who headed the veteran’s organization called The Grand Army of the Republic appealed to communities to honor the dead by holding ceremonies and decorating the graves of the fallen.

In the South three different days served a similar purpose. In Virginia people commemorated the day on June 3rd, the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Carolinas marked the day on 10 May, the birthday of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In much of the Deep South the event was conducted April 26th, the anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph Johnson’s Army to General William Tecumseh Sherman. For many in the South, still attempting to come to grips with their defeat the day would become about “The Lost Cause” or “the defense of Liberty” or “States Rights” and the war was often referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

The “Martyrs of the Racecourse” cemetery is no longer there. The site is now a park honoring the fascinatingly complex Confederate General and post-Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina Wade Hampton. An oval track remains in the park and is used to run or walk by the local population and cadets from the Citadel. Thankfully, at long last in 2010, one hundred and forty-five years after the dedication of that cemetery a marker was placed in that park commemorating the cemetery and the event that we now recognize as the first Memorial Day.

First-Memorial-Day-honoring-257-Union-soldier-martyrs-10000-freedmen-march-led-by-3000-children-05011865

African American Children saluting the Union Dead years later

The Union dead who had been so beautifully honored by the Black population were moved to the National Cemetery at Beaufort South Carolina by the 1880s. Some state that the reason for this was that the cemetery had fallen into neglect, and this may be the case, but the event and their memory conveniently erased from memory of Charlestonians.

I do not think that this would have happened had the people who had the bodies moved simply restored and maintained the cemetery. Had not historian David Blight found the documentation we probably still would not know of this touching act by former slaves who honored those that fought the battles, and gave their lives to win their freedom. Blight wrote in 2011 in the 1870s Charleston “had no place for the former slaves’ march on their masters’ racecourse.”

The African American population of Charleston understood the bonds of slavery and oppression. They understood the tyranny of prejudice in which they only counted as 3/5ths of a person. They understood and saw the suffering of those that were taken prisoner while attempting to liberate them from the tyranny of slavery. They stand as an example for us today.

But their suffering was not over. Within little more than a decade Blacks in the South would be subject to Jim Crow and again treated by many whites as something less than human. The struggle of they and their descendants against the tyranny of racial prejudice, discrimination and violence over the next 100 years would finally bear fruit in the Civil Rights movement, some of whose leaders, like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. would also become martyrs. Unfortunately that struggle is not over.

Frederick Douglass spoke to Union Veterans on Memorial Day 1878. His words, particularly in light of the war and the struggles of African Americans since and the understanding of what those who were enslaved understood liberation to be are most significant to our time. It was not merely a war based on sectionalism or even “States rights,” it was a war of ideas, a war of diametrically opposed ideologies. He said:

“But the sectional character of this war was merely accidental and its least significant feature. It was a war of ideas, a battle of principles and ideas which united one section and divided the other; a war between the old and new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization; between a government based upon the broadest and grandest declaration of human rights the world ever heard or read, and another pretended government, based upon an open, bold and shocking denial of all rights, except the right of the strongest.”

Douglass’s words were powerful then and they resonate today as many of the same ideas that were the cause of the Civil War and were continued during Jim Crow are still alive. Unfortunately there are those in our society who labor daily to establish the “rights” of the strongest over the weak, the poor, the powerless and minorities of all kinds. Of course such actions, often wrapped in the flag, patriotism and buttressed with cherry picked quotes (many of which are fake, changed or taken out of context) from some of our founders are designed to re-establish the oligarchy of the power of the few, much like the men who owned the lives of the slaves and poor whites in the ante-bellum American South. Such actions do nothing but demean and trample the sacrifice of those who fought for freedom and the only remedy is to fight them with the full knowledge of truth.

american-flag

I do hope that today we will observe Memorial Day in a fitting manner. Let us honor those Americans who died that others might be free. Let us look back at what freedom actually means and not forget the sacrifices of those that gave, and still give their lives in the “last full measure of devotion to duty” that others might live. This is especially true in an era where the racial and religious hatred and prejudice of Southern Slave Power, and Northern Know Nothings, that enslaved African Americans, exterminated Native American, invaded and Mexico, and treated Irish, German, Asian, and other immigrants, Roman Catholics, and Jews as enemies is raising its head as White Supremacists take their cue from the President that such behavior is acceptable.

Take a moment on Monday at noon to pause what you are doing and go silent for at least one minute, and remember.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Offering We Bring: the Observance of Memorial Day

 

decoration-day1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is Memorial Day weekend and for the vast majority of Americans, even those who loudly claim to “support the troops” the weekend is little more than an opportunity to start the summer. There will be ball games and picnics, parties and concerts, as well as road trips, and some will even honor the military personnel that are currently serving; however, that is not why we observe Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is observed to honor the lives and sacrifice of those men and women who died in the service of the country. Its roots go back to May 1865 when newly freed Blacks in Charleston South Carolina took the time to honor the fallen Union soldiers by dedicating a cemetery to them. I’ll go back to that in a bit.

Frederick Douglass discussed the meaning of Memorial Day in 1884:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.”

Memorial Day, at one time known as Decoration Day is one of our most sacred civil holidays that we observe in the United States, or at least it should be. It was a holiday born out of the shedding of the blood of about 750,000 American soldiers, from the North and the South in the Civil War, a singular event that still echoes in our history and in some sense defines who we are and it is important that we come to understand its meaning and history.

racecourse_t600

The Racecourse Cemetery

The first observance of what we now know as Memorial Day is fascinating and it needs to be remembered. Frederick Douglass was absolutely right when he spoke the words that I began this article, and we need to remember the humble beginnings of this day which was first marked by recently freed slaves in Charleston South Carolina on May 1st 1865. They did so barely two weeks after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and three weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

The acrid smell of smoke of the last battles of the American Civil War was still lingering over many towns and cities in the South on May 1st 1865. Charleston, the hotbed of secession was particularly hard hit during the war. In 1861 Cadets of the Citadel and South Carolina militia forces began the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Union Forces laid siege to the city in late 1863, a siege which ended with the city’s surrender to Union forces under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman on 18 February 1865. The day of the surrender was somewhat ironic. Charleston, the city most associated with the opening of the conflict surrendered to Union forces on the fourth anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy. By the time of its surrender much of the city had been destroyed by Union siege artillery and naval forces.

As a Confederate stronghold Charleston had also been the home of three of the Prisoner of War Camps. One was located in the Charleston City Jail and the other at Castle Pinckney which had been one of the ante-bellum U.S. Army installations in the city. A third camp was erected on the site of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in 1864. This was an open air camp and Yale Historian David Blight wrote that “Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.”

By the end of the war most of the white population of the city had left and most of those remaining were recently freed slaves. After their liberation and the city’s occupation by Federal forces, which included the famous 54th Massachusetts as well as the 20th, 35th and 104th US Colored Troops Regiments; about 28 recently liberated Black men went to work and properly reinterred the 257 Union dead on the raceway and built a high fence around it. They inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course” on an arch above the cemetery entrance.

6a01b8d0781960970c01b7c7901048970b-320wi

On May 1st over 10,000 Black Charlestonians gathered at the site to honor the fallen. Psalms, Scriptures and prayers were said, hymns were sung and many brought flowers. A parade of 2800 children covered the burial ground with flowers. They were followed by members of the Patriotic Association of Colored Men and the Mutual Aid Society. This society’s members provided relief supplies to Freedmen and provided aid to bury those Blacks who were too poor to afford burial. More citizens followed many laying flower bouquets on the graves. Children then led the singing of The Star Spangled Banner, America and Rally around the Flag. The Brigade composed of the 54th Massachusetts and the 35th and 104th Colored Regiments marched in honor of their fallen comrades. Following the formalities many remained behind for a picnic.

Other communities established their own Memorial Day observances in the years following the war, but the event in Charleston was the first. The first “Official” commemoration was on 30 May 1868 when Union General John Logan who headed the veteran’s organization called The Grand Army of the Republic appealed to communities to honor the dead by holding ceremonies and decorating the graves of the fallen.

In the South three different days served a similar purpose. In Virginia people commemorated the day on June 3rd, the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Carolinas marked the day on 10 May, the birthday of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In much of the Deep South the event was conducted April 26th, the anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph Johnson’s Army to General William Tecumseh Sherman. For many in the South, still attempting to come to grips with their defeat the day would become about “The Lost Cause” or “the defense of Liberty” or “States Rights” and the war was often referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

The “Martyrs of the Racecourse” cemetery is no longer there. The site is now a park honoring the fascinatingly complex Confederate General and post-Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina Wade Hampton. An oval track remains in the park and is used to run or walk by the local population and cadets from the Citadel. Thankfully, at long last in 2010, one hundred and forty-five years after the dedication of that cemetery a marker was placed in that park commemorating the cemetery and the event that we now recognize as the first Memorial Day.

First-Memorial-Day-honoring-257-Union-soldier-martyrs-10000-freedmen-march-led-by-3000-children-05011865

African American Children saluting the Union Dead years later

The Union dead who had been so beautifully honored by the Black population were moved to the National Cemetery at Beaufort South Carolina by the 1880s. Some state that the reason for this was that the cemetery had fallen into neglect, and this may be the case, but the event and their memory conveniently erased from memory of Charlestonians.

I do not think that this would have happened had the people who had the bodies moved simply restored and maintained the cemetery. Had not historian David Blight found the documentation we probably still would not know of this touching act by former slaves who honored those that fought the battles, and gave their lives to win their freedom. Blight wrote in 2011 in the 1870s Charleston “had no place for the former slaves’ march on their masters’ racecourse.”

The African American population of Charleston understood the bonds of slavery and oppression. They understood the tyranny of prejudice in which they only counted as 3/5ths of a person. They understood and saw the suffering of those that were taken prisoner while attempting to liberate them from the tyranny of slavery. They stand as an example for us today.

But their suffering was not over. Within little more than a decade Blacks in the South would be subject to Jim Crow and again treated by many whites as something less than human. The struggle of they and their descendants against the tyranny of racial prejudice, discrimination and violence over the next 100 years would finally bear fruit in the Civil Rights movement, some of whose leaders, like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. would also become martyrs. Unfortunately that struggle is not over.

Frederick Douglass spoke to Union Veterans on Memorial Day 1878. His words, particularly in light of the war and the struggles of African Americans since and the understanding of what those who were enslaved understood liberation to be are most significant to our time. It was not merely a war based on sectionalism or even “States rights,” it was a war of ideas, a war of diametrically opposed ideologies. He said:

“But the sectional character of this war was merely accidental and its least significant feature. It was a war of ideas, a battle of principles and ideas which united one section and divided the other; a war between the old and new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization; between a government based upon the broadest and grandest declaration of human rights the world ever heard or read, and another pretended government, based upon an open, bold and shocking denial of all rights, except the right of the strongest.”

Douglass’s words were powerful then and they resonate today as many of the same ideas that were the cause of the Civil War and were continued during Jim Crow are still alive. Unfortunately there are those in our society who labor daily to establish the “rights” of the strongest over the weak, the poor, the powerless and minorities of all kinds. Of course such actions, often wrapped in the flag, patriotism and buttressed with cherry picked quotes (many of which are fake, changed or taken out of context) from some of our founders are designed to re-establish the oligarchy of the power of the few, much like the men who owned the lives of the slaves and poor whites in the ante-bellum American South. Such actions do nothing but demean and trample the sacrifice of those who fought for freedom and the only remedy is to fight them with the full knowledge of truth.

american-flag

I do hope that today we will observe Memorial Day in a fitting manner. Let us honor those Americans who died that others might be free. Let us look back at what freedom actually means and not forget the sacrifices of those that gave, and still give their lives in the “last full measure of devotion to duty” that others might live. This is especially true in an era where the racial and religious hatred and prejudice of Southern Slave Power, and Northern Know Nothings, that enslaved African Americans, exterminated Native American, invaded and Mexico, and treated Irish, German, Asian, and other immigrants, Roman Catholics, and Jews as enemies is raising its head as White Supremacists take their cue from the President that such behavior is acceptable.

Take a moment on Monday at noon to pause what you are doing and go silent for at least one minute, and remember.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary