Confederate memories of a Southern boy | Arkansas Blog

Monday, August 21, 2017

Confederate memories of a Southern boy

Posted By on Mon, Aug 21, 2017 at 4:53 PM

THE SOUTH'S DEFENDERS: A familiar spot in my youth, the monument still stands by the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse in Lake Charles, La.
  • THE SOUTH'S DEFENDERS: A familiar spot in my youth, the monument still stands by the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse in Lake Charles, La.
Slow news day, so I thought I'd pass along some personal thoughts about the recent Confederate monument hubbub.

It's inspired by an article in today's New York Times about playwright Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") who grew up in Lake Charles, La., as I did, and whose mother, Sylvia, led a summer orchestra in which I played several years long ago.

Kushner also wrote a musical, "Caroline or Change,"  about an African-American student in the 1960s and an African-American domestic worker who toiled for a family much like his own. She chafed at the slow pace of civil rights progress and hatches a successful plot to topple the town's Confederate statue in 1963.. Prescient. Kushner comments:
“It was meant to be shocking — it would have been very daring in 1963,” Mr. Kushner said in an interview on Friday. He said that he could not have anticipated the events of the past few days, but added: “I really hoped it would happen someday. I did take my best shot at guessing what might be of lasting significance, and I’m proud of that.”

....Mr. Kushner said that the statue described in the show was a real part of his childhood: He grew up in Lake Charles and passed the South’s Defenders Monument regularly on his way to school. There have been repeated efforts to have the statue removed or relocated — including in 1995, before he wrote the musical. But the statue is still standing in front of the Calcasieu Parish Courthouse, to Mr. Kushner’s frustration.

“I hate all this statuary — it felt to me my entire life that it was essentially no different than a monument to members of the Wehrmacht or the SS,” he said.
Stand that monument does. Yet another effort to remove it by local government failed on a racially split vote in 2015.

It was a hallowed spot for my father, who worked in a little office a block away for 30 years or so. He was both sentimental and proud of his Confederate roots, with grandfathers whose CSA infantry service qualified him (and me) for membership in Sons of Confederate Veterans.  I followed the local college football team with him and my great-uncle. In those days, many colleges played "Dixie" as a fight song. My uncle always commanded that I stand whenever the song was played.

Then it was off to Washington and Lee University. What a trip to start my freshman year. My uncle rode along with my dad and we made stops at several Civil War battlefields along the way. Unc was moved to tears when we entered the college's Lee Chapel, beneath which Lee is buried, at the sight of the statue of the recumbent Lee. He appears to be lying in funereal state, though it's actually a representation of him sleeping . (He was in repose beneath an array of Confederate banners since removed as part of the college's tortured dealing with the past and present student concerns.)

One more memory: Not long ago, I spoke with a high school classmate, a friend since she and I attended nursery school at First Methodist. "You know what I still remember about you?"  she asked. "Talking every time at show-and-tell in the first grade about how the South would have won the war if only they'd had enough supplies."

What went wrong in subsequent years? (Or right, if you prefer?) How did I turn out more like Tony Kushner than my Uncle or my dad, with whom I had some monumental disagreements when full-fledged integration arrived in our neighborhood's schools during my younger brother's years?

Maybe I'm just contrary.

But I had to laugh the other day when a Facebook commenter said of my disparagement of Confederate monument defenders in Arkansas that the words must have been written by a Yankee.

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