Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Ten Albums #7: Be Still My Soul

This album filled a need I didn't know I had.  Growing up in the Baptist church, I had an appreciation of old hymns.  I know the Heavenly Highway.  I know my way around the 1975, 1991, and 2008 Baptist Hymnals.  Their songs make up a large part of the fabric of who I am.

But, it is also true to say, that the way many of those hymns are presented can be very dry.  Simplistic and rote.

Selah breathed new life into this material.  Missionary kid siblings Todd and Nicole Smith and friend Allan Hall, brought influences of gospel, of soul, of Subsaharan Africa into these traditional hymns and found new depths.  

The focus on beautiful arrangements, very tight harmony, and excellent vocals lifts this album among other Christian gospel music.  For this album, they didn't have much of a budget, leaving it largely just their voices and a piano.  And this remains one of their best albums.

The group would also release their sheet music for the album.  Since it was just a piano playing, they released exactly what is heard on the disc, not the simplified or approximated versions that are normally released.  This put in me an even greater appreciation for what they were able to accomplish.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Ten Albums #6: Rent

There was always going to be a Broadway cast album on this list and I debated on which one to go with.  I settled on Rent because I discovered it at just the right time.  A rock opera update of La Boheme, set in the late 1980s/early 1990s Village in New York City.  My college self was the perfect age to discover this show as it toured Austin. This was a show for outcasts and we naturally were drawn to it.

The music is consistently amazing throughout the show, even in what would be considered smaller numbers like Life Support.  Larson's ability to heavy material lyrically is unmatched, as is his ability to use comedy in song.  

There comes a point though, when you know you've reached an age where you can no longer identify with the characters in the show.  Sure, their struggle against the hopelessness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic will always resonate. But, the fight to not pay rent, not so much.  I've crossed that line.  Jamie and I saw another tour version of the show recently and while the music still connects, the storyline gets a bit aggravating.  

I've still got most of the soundtrack memorized, though.  That part will be forever etched in my brain.  It will serve as a remind of how best to spend out time here on earth.  One year.  565,600 minutes.  How do you measure a year?

How about in love?

Sunday, June 28, 2020

50 Years of Pride

Fifty-one years ago today, at 1:20 am, six police officers arrived at the double doors of Stonewall Inn and announced, "Police!  We're taking the place!"  There had been a rumor that a raid would take place, but it was much later than any raid in the past.  There were 205 people in the bar that night, including two undercover police officers already there.  The lights were turned on, the music stopped, and the police called for backup.

The raid did not go as planned.  Both police and patrons would recall a sense of discomfort setting in very quickly.  Within minutes 100 to 150 people had gathered outside, either from being kicked out of the bar by the police or from seeing the commotion and deciding to observe.  When the first patrol wagon arrived, the crowd had grown to ten times the size of those being arrested.  Before the second would arrive, the situation would explode.

Pennies and beer bottles were thrown at the patrol wagons.  One woman being escorted in handcuffs would get in a scuffle with four police officers, fighting them off for ten minutes and inciting the crowd to act up.  "Why don't you guys do something?"  Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen, sex worker, and activist, is credited with having thrown a shot glass at a mirror at the onset of the fighting.  "The shot glass heard round the world."

The police tried to restrain the crowd, leading the crowd to react further.  The commotion attracted more people, coming to fight for the cause.  The police ended up being outnumbered by some 500 to 600 people, leading ten of the officers to barricade themselves along with several detainees in the Stonewall Inn.   The Tactical Patrol Force was sent in to aid the trapped officers, leading to a standoff with the crowd.  Night sticks on one side, and I kid you not, a kick line on the other.  

The TPF cleared the street by 4:00 am; thirteen people were arrested, several were hospitalized, four police officers were injured.  The battle had just started.  The next night there would be over a thousand people gathered and protesting, with a similar battle to take place.

And that was just the start.  The ensuing riot inspired more riots the following nights as well as civil disobedience and marches across the country.  The first Pride parade would take place in New York, exactly one year from the Stonewall Inn rebellion.  The parade would cover 51 blocks from Christopher Street, to Central park.  Similar events would be organized in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago.  And in the subsequent years, it would continue to spread.  "The Stonewall Rebellion was crucial because it sounded the rally for that movement. It became an emblem of gay and lesbian power. By calling on the dramatic tactic of violent protest that was being used by other oppressed groups, the events at the Stonewall implied that homosexuals had as much reason to be disaffected as they."

The bar was raided that night simply because people in the bar loved people of the same sex.  Or they dressed like the other sex.  Or they refused to be identified by a gender, or recognized that the sex they were born into did not match the sex of their soul.

Homosexuality was a crime.   At the time, it would also still be listed as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.  It would remain there until 1974.  Being dressed in drag was a likewise a crime.  Patrons of the bar were arrested if they were not found in the "appropriate" attire for their sex.

It's easy to look at all of this as a relic of the past, something we've outgrown.  And we have made progress in this respect, but it's important to remember how long it has taken.  Anti-sodomy laws were not declared unconstitutional until 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas.  This was the case that finally recognized sexual privacy, the ability for two consenting adults to make their own decisions about what happens in the bedroom, without the state's intrusion.   LGBTQ+ were not included in hate crimes protection until 2009.  "Don't ask, don't tell" was only removed in 2011, allowing LGBTQ+ officers to serve openly.  Committed homosexual couples were allowed to have their unions recognized just four years ago, with Obergefell v. Hodges.   It took to this year, for discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community to be prohibited.  

We have come along way.  And in this season of America's history, it's important to remember that this only happened through sweat, through tears, through protest, through violence.  Pride has its roots in a violent opposition to the police.  In violent opposition to a system that was set up to marginalize a segment of the population.  

Sometimes, this is what forces us to acknowledge the issue.

Because there is still a long way to go.  To end housing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ population.  To restore health care to the transgender community that has been taken away by the current administration.

In the meantime, to any LGBTQ+ readers, stay proud.  Keep up the good fight!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Ten Albums #5: Dosage

Alternative rock was the music of my high school and college years.  97.1 The Buzz in Houston.  101X in Austin.  Those were constants.

This album represents the first album that I can remember buying and paying attention to the whole album.  Not buying for a single, or just a couple of songs, but buying for the artist and the whole album.  It has a couple of my favorite Collective Soul songs: Needs and Not the One.  It also introduced me to the hidden track.  Track 10 has two songs, the named track and several seconds later She Said, unadvertised on the album.

Below is the full last track, with the hidden track included.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Ten Albums #4: Queen Greatest Hits Volumes 1 and 2

The greatest rock band of all time, period.

The genres they covered, the complexity of the music.  To even attempt something like Bohemian Rhapsody is insane.  Can you imagine trying to convince a record label to record a rock opera single?  Still, it is probably one of the most iconic songs of all times.

And these two discs are packed with the hits.  Under Pressure, Another One Bites the Dust, We Are the Champions, This Thing Called Love, Somebody to Love.  The amount of talent on display on these discs is mind blowing.

I made a comment recently that if I could have anyone's voice, I would want Freddie Mercury.  His range and control make him top of the field.  His willingness to experiment makes him excel.

This time, my favorite deep cut from the album.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Ten Albums #3: Once Upon A Christmas

As a kid growing up, this was the Christmas album.  I can still sing most of the words to this entire album.  It represents a few things in my musical background and education. Duets, Christmas music, and classic country.  

As a fan of harmony, I'm a sucker for a good duet.  Ones where both parties trade melody and harmony.  Dolly and Kenny melded so well on this album and in songs like Islands in the Stream.  Their talent shows in their ability to compliment each other without overpowering the other.  

Christmas music is one of my favorite genres.  I'm a bit of a purist, so I won't start listening to it until after Thanksgiving, but there is such a wealth of good material, I enjoy rediscovering every year.  I also look forward to discovering new songs and new arrangements of classic songs to keep updating my My Favorite Things playlist.

Now for classic country.  This also falls under your first musical influences being the music of your parents.  To that end, I got a lot of 1970s and 1980s country music in my background.  I'm probably one of the only people my age that was a member of the Barbara Mandrell fan club.  To me there is a magic in that music, the mixture of electric and steel guitar.  The point before country went nearly full pop.

For those of you that can stand Christmas music out of season, my favorite from the album below.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ten Albums #2: American Graffiti

When you are a kid, the foundations of your musical taste start with the music that your parents listened to.  The album was one such album that played a big part in my childhood.

And, it is, without a doubt, the greatest movie soundtrack ever assembled.

It's because of this album I know Wolfman Jack.  The name of some instrumental tracks like Green Onions.  

I learned tight harmonies from girl and guy doo wop groups.  To practice and perfect a mean false with songs like Little Darlin' and Since I Don't Have You.

This was my introduction to rock and roll, which remains one of my favorite genres.  And below is one of my favorites from the album.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Ten Albums #1: The Sherman Brothers Songbook


Though this cd was not released until 2009, it is the perfect encapsulation of my musical education as a child.  And it was likely not only me.  In the Playbill article for Robert Sherman's obituary, the writer included "If you don't know at least a half dozen Sherman songs by heart, there's a very good chance you were never a child."  The reason for that quote is the incredible volume and quality of their songs.  

The Boys, as Walt called them, were his go to songwriting duo.  When he needed songs for an animated feature, for a live-action hybrid, for a theme park ride, for a live action film, this was the team he relied on.   In their repertoire:

The Wonderful World of Color (from Disney's Wonderful World of Color TV show)
The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room (from the Enchanted Tiki Room)
It's A Small World (from the ride)
A Spoonful of Sugar
Feed the Birds
Chim Chim Cher-ee
Winnie The Pooh
I Wan'na Be Like You
The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers
There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

They would go on to work on projects for other studios, that have just as fond a memory for families and kids who saw them at just the right age.  Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn musicals from the 1970s.  Charlotte's Web.  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Snoopy Go Home.

From the Sherman Brothers, I developed a fondness for intricate word play, particularly with made up words.  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  Gratifaction.  Fortuousity.  Higgitus-figgitus.  

I also developed a great appreciation for point and counterpoint.  The Boys were great at it.  To the point where some of their songs with point and counterpoint melodies can be played at the same time as their other songs with point and counterpoint melodies.  

The above combined with tight and straightforward harmony, meant their songs got played and sung a lot in my childhood.  

This is the foundation of my musical development.

To that end, I've included a special version of probably their most famous song, It's A Small World, containing the third verse that no one has ever really heard.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Ten Albums That Greatly Influenced My Musical Taste Introduction

I was challenged by Jamie to list the 10 albums which greatly influenced my taste in music.  It's a social media challenge that was going around recently, and unlike others that listed more personal information, this one looked fun.  

The challenge as provided on Facebook asks for one title per day for ten consecutive days, with no explanations, no reviews, only covers.  It also asked that you would nominate someone else to play along each day.

Rebel that I am, I'm forgoing the rules and proceeding in my own special way.  I'll still be posting one album a day, but I'm going to give a little background on why this particular album and its music is so important to me.  How it influenced me.  Why it was so impactful.

And you can all breathe a sigh of relief, I will not be nominating anyone to play along.

This page will serve as a hub for the full list once it has all been revealed.  I'm looking forward to sharing my musical influences over the coming days so everyone can see how weird and eclectic it is.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's Day 2020

Jamie and I are taking a parenting class with our new church that is focusing on parenting through the stages.  Identifying what questions children are asking at each age as they grow and what we can do to equip them. 

As an icebreaker, they have been asking questions about what we remember from our childhoods.  What sayings that our parents made that have stuck with us.  What things they have done with us that we remember.  

For Father's Day, I start thinking of what I remember Dad teaching me.  And I have a lot to be thankful for.

Thank you Dad for teaching us that anything is possible and we could do anything, but that awe have to put forth our best effort for it.  For teaching us the value of work.  And to help anyone we can when there is a need.  The store is open, even when its not, and if there is a need we can meet, we should.

Thank you for teaching us the importance of getting away and prioritizing a break.  The importance of finding good food.  Of laughing and enjoying time together as a family. 

Thank you for prioritizing family.  

Thank you for loving God, loving Mom, and loving us well.

We love you PapaRock!  I hope you know how much.  Also, hope you are enjoying your day with the other Dynamic Duo.

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Taking A Break

Brief update today.  Wanted to pass along that I will be taking a short break from posting on current events and trying to write daily.  This does not mean that there will be no posts, but that I will be posting the scheduled series on the Ten Albums that Influenced My Musical Tastes over the coming days (with a few minor exceptions).  We will be driving for a while and the work week next week is pretty stacked, so I'm going to use this opportunity to answer that challenge and distance myself from the craziness in the news.

I reserve the right to jump in and post on something that just cannot be ignored, and those may definitely happen.  But for the most part, these next few days will be a little lighter in content and a bit more fun.

There's still plenty to come after this.  At some point in the future, I plan to address Defund the Police, what it actually means, and why it could be very beneficial.  Whitewashing the Bible.  The power struggle the Attorney General is engaging in with New York and the lies he's putting to paper.  Shopping small.  The list goes on.'

For now, hope you are getting to take a bit of a break as well and thanks always for reading.

Friday, June 19, 2020


"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, 'all slaves are free.'"
June 19, 1865

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued Proclamation 95, an executive order intended to go into effect on January 1, 1863.  The Proclamation would become known as the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing some 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in Confederate states.  

Though the proclamation would be mailed and telegraphed across the country, there would be parts of the Confederacy that would refuse manumission, that is, they would refuse to free their enslaved people despite the order.  Texas was one such state.  The enslaved would not be freed until over two years later, when the Union army reached Galveston.  Union Army General Gordon Granger would announce the proclamation above, informing Texas that all enslaved were free.  

Though all enslaved African Americans would not be freed until the passing of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, June 19 became a day of celebration in Texas.  Juneteenth.  Emancipation Day.  Jubilee Day.  Celebrations started as early as 1866 and spread across the South.  Though the celebrations became quiet during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era, they experienced a resurgence in the 1970s and in many states the day has become a state holiday.  There is a push now for the day to be a federal holiday.

If anything, for a large portion of particularly white America, today highlights how badly history has been taught to us.  Though Texans of all stripes probably know about Juneteenth, they may not know why it is celebrated or what it celebrates.  Many across the country have learned about the holiday for the first time this year.  

Many of us have also learned about a lot for the first time this year. 

About Emmitt Till.

Or the Tulsa massacre of Black Wall Street, where white rioters tore through the Greenwood district of Tulsa following a misunderstood altercation between a black male shoeshiner and a white female elevator operator.  The riots led to the National Guard being called in.  Estimates of include up to 300 dead, 800 people admitted to hospitals, 6,000 black residents interned at large facilities for several days.  10,000 black people were left homeless and property damage amounted to more than $1.5 million in real estate.  

The Tuskegee Experiments in which African American sharecroppers were used as experiments in order to observe syphilis in African American men.  The program started 1932 and involved 600 participants.  Of the participants, 399 had latent syphilis.  The other 201 were used as a control group.  Those with syphilis were not told they had the disease, only that they were being treated for bad blood.  They were only given placebos, so that the scientists could explore the full range of effects on syphilis on the patients.  The experiments continued until 1972.

About COINTELPRO, the covert and illegal projects conducted by the FBI to discredit political organizations like the Black Power movement, leading to the assassination of Fred Hampton.

About Redlining.

About the Lost Year in Arkansas education, where the governor of Arkansas closed all the white schools following the integration of Little Rock Central High School.   With the view that it would be better for white children to get no education that to share the classroom with a Black child.

The police bombing the MOVE house in a residential neighborhood in Philadelphia in 1985.

And so, so much more.  

Or even learning about more positive points in history.  

Like Madam CJ Walker, the first self-made millionaire in America, an African American woman who ran a successful cosmetic and healthcare company for black women from 1888 to 1919.  

Katherine Johnson, whose orbital mechanics calculations were critical to the success of the United States' crewed spaceflights.  

Robert Smalls, the first Black American in the United States to hold the title of Captain, in 1863.  

Gloria Richardson, who negotiated the Treaty of Cambridge with Attorney General Robert Kennedy.  

Claudette Colvin, who at the age of 15 preceded Rosa Parks in giving up her seat on the bus by a few months.  

Ralph Bunche, the first African American and the first individual of non-European ethnicity or race to be awarded as a Nobel laureate.

This just scratches the surface.  We've segregated history such that we've forgotten that Black history is American history.  And to that end, we've done us all a great disservice.  Much of what we are seeing today is because a large percentage of the population has no idea about the truth of our past.

Hopefully, today can be the starting point.  Use today to educate yourself on the true, complicated history we have in our past.  And to educate yourself on the problematic systems that we still have in place today.

A good place to start is the Emancipation Proclamation and the history of emancipation.  I've included the full text of the proclamation below and have also linked to an excellent audible version produced by NPR, where their African American correspondents read the proclamation, as mirror to NPR's tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

One part in particular that has always stood out to me in the celebration of Juneteenth, is its recognition as Jubilee Day.  The Jubilee here refers to the Biblical principle of Jubilee, or the Year of Release.  From Leviticus 25:8-12 -

You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.  Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month.  On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.  And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.  That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines.  For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field."

The Jubilee is literally a trumpet blast of freedom, a practice in which every 49th year (or 50th year, depending on how you count) slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.  It was a year of forgiveness and emancipation.  It was also very practical, as it prevented the over accumulation of wealth and arable land in the hands of a few.

African Americans after the Civil War and with the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment recognized their jubilee.  

Perhaps its time for another?

"January 1, 1863

A Transcription

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Problematic Iconography

In our awareness of problematic iconography across the country, many food brands are changing their mascots or dropping problematic figureheads.  The Aunt Jemima product line is being closed and rebranded by Quaker Oats.  Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth, and Cream of Wheat's Rastus are all being looked at for similar rebrandings.  

And, as expected, the reaction has been a bit incendiary.  For many people, this is a sign of how far we've fallen.   How stupid this has all become.  They can't believe anyone would see this imagery as racist and can't imagine why it needs to be changed.  It's just one more way American society is being destroyed, by us tearing down everything that anyone claims to be offended by.

The thing is, I doubt many of them know the history of these brands.  I doubt they give them any thought when they see them in the store, or if they do, the get the exact message that these fictional brand spokepersons are supposed to convey.

Let's look at Aunt Jemima.

Despite what you may have read on the internet, Aunt Jemima pancake mix started in 1888, when St. Joseph Gazette editor Chris Rutt and his friend Charles Underwood bought a flour mill in St. Joseph Missouri.  They began selling their excess flour as a ready made pancake mix with an Aunt Jemima character used to market the mix.  They were unable to make the project work, and sold their company to the Randolph Truett Davis Milling Company in 1890.  Davis Milling Company was renamed Aunt Jemima Mills in 1913.  This branding took off, becoming so well recognized that it changed trademark infringement precedent.  The Quaker Oats company purchased the Aunt Jemima Mills Company in 1926, and registered the Aunt Jemima trademark in April 1937.  It remains one of the longest continually running logos and trademarks in history of American advertising.

The Aunt Jemima image comes from the "Mammy" stereotype in minstrel shows.  This character type started appearing in the late 1800s and with a character named Aunt Jemima appearing as early as 1864.  The character gained national recognition with an old minstrel song "Old Aunt Jemima," written in 1875.  The song would be performed by a white actor in blackface, wearing an apron and a kerchief.  Both of these attributes were captured in the Aunt Jemima logo.  The portrayal of Aunt Jemima harkened back to an idealized and glorified view of the antebellum South, with Jemima as a happy house slave.  This aspect of Aunt Jemima would be continually updated throughout the decades, as we became more and more uncomfortable with that image.

What social media has gotten right, is that Nancy Green was involved in the early images of Aunt Jemima.  The R.T. Davis Milling Company hired Nancy Green as their spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima Pancake mix in 1890, a role that she held until her death in 1923.  Green was a storyteller, cook, activist, and model.  But her heirs also felt that she was exploited for her role as Aunt Jemima.

It's hard not to look back at the early Aunt Jemima logos and caricatures and cringe. They start flat out racist and then move into problematically stereotypical at best. The earliest ones have the over-exaggeration of lip size and color, over-exaggerated teeth, and blackface skin. Almost blackface makeup on black performer skin, a technique that was used in Hollywood for African American actors that were too light-skinned.

As the years progressed, the overly exaggerated features of Aunt Jemima were toned down, but the stereotypical language was dialed up.  "I'se in town honey!" became almost a catch phrase. The apron and the kerchief from the minstrel shows remained.

The revamped version today has removed the kerchief and apron, opting for a more businesswoman like look.

That still doesn't change the problematic roots.  Ignorance of these problematic roots doesn't make it go away, neither does not being able to see the problem.  

Perhaps you are in that situation, you don't see the problem with the later logos.  you just associate Aunt Jemima with a good, happy black person.  You think it has positive association for you.  That is part of the problem.  That's what the iconography was designed to do.  It was designed for you to link African Americans with subservient roles.  Like the cook.  For you to see them as still part of the help and happy in that role.  

You can see that over and over again in older food brands. Ones that are far worse and have disappeared.  How many Sambo's restaurants do you see today?  And you see it still today in a few brands.  Uncle Ben.  Cream of Wheat's Rastus was a compatriot to Aunt Jemima in the same minstrel shows.  Mrs. Butterworth.  

At some point we have to value our fellow human beings over brands.  Over our attachment to problematic parts of our past.  Over our misunderstanding of history.   

The recipe of Aunt Jemima isn't going to change and for those that love it, they still be able to find it under another name from Quaker Oats.   Brands can change and update.

Maybe, just maybe, we as people can too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Taking a Knee

It's hard to believe it was only four years ago in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem before games to protest racial injustice, police brutality, and systematic oppression in American society.  His protest would lead many other sports figures across the country to do the same.

It's harder to believe we are still at a place where that protest is more relevant than ever.  As if we didn't understand those protests at the time and have not learned any lesson from them.

This year, we've seen another impact of taking a knee, this time used as a weapon of force.  Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, watching the life slowly drain out of Floyd.  The knee before in protest of such actions.  The knee now linked with police abuse and brutality.

Kneeling has also popped up in the protests that have resulted from the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breona Taylor.  Protestors silently taking a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to commemorate George Floyd.  Asking police officers that are monitoring the protests to take a knee in solidarity.  

In response to the protests, in response to this requests, I've finally seen a troublesome statement in social media.  Sometimes alone, and sometimes in connection with a larger manifesto, the sentiment is the same.  "I only kneel to God."

While I understand the sentiment and the desire to only submit to God, the statement seems to miss a few of the purposes of kneeling, viewing it as only an act of submission.  This misses at least two other purposes for taking a knee.

Submission is definitely the easiest to understand and I can get why people jump to that conclusion.  We have the picture of kneeling before a monarch.  Bending the knee to show loyalty or fealty.  We saw this in a lot of discussion of Game of Thrones.  Whether Jon Snow would bend the knee to Daenerys Targaryen.  The decision to bend the knee or not was linked to strength.  Would you be strong and refuse to bend or would you cave and submit?

In this light, we understand how people can say "I only kneel to God."  We are called to have no other gods before our God.  To many this means to have no other allegiances.  There are some sects of Christianity that take this to even mean not pledging allegiance to the flag.

As stated above though, this misses the other meanings of kneeling.  Meanings that we encounter frequently in our lives.

The first of the other two meanings that I have identified is to show respect.  Think of the situation at a football game where a player is injured.  The gameplay stops and what do the other players do?  They take a knee.  Why?  They are not kneeling in submission to the injured player or to the other team.  They are kneeling out of respect for the other player and acknowledgement of what they are facing.  Acknowledgement of the injury.  The hurt.  It's a sign that though we may be on opposite sides of the field, we still respect the other team and its players.

It's ironic that this is the reason that Colin Kaepernick started kneeling in the first place.  When he first started protesting, he sat through the national anthem.  After a conversation with former NFL player and US military veteran Nate Boyer, he began kneeling.  Why?  Boyer suggested kneeling as it would show more respect to former and current US military servicemen and women.  Though he was still engaging in protest, he was doing it in a way that was a recognized sign of respect.

The final reason for taking a knee is what I believe is the most powerful one of all: to show humility.  To beg forgiveness.  To take a lower position.  

To prioritize someone else over yourself.

It's a sign of empathy.  Of recognition.

And this form is what has been asked of late.  Not submission, but respect and humility.  

There is no coincidence that some of the most powerful images and videos that have come from the protests and the unrest are when police officers remove their gear, kneel with the protestors, lock arm and show solidarity with them.  As if there was a recognition of the hurt, the pain on both sides.   And its again no coincidence that locations where this has happened, and where it was not followed up shortly after with tear gas and rubber bullets, have some of the most peaceful demonstrations.

Because an act of humility, and honest apology, has power.

We recognize this in our lives of faith as well.  As much as we kneel before God because we submit to his authority, we also kneel before him in abject humility.  In recognition of our need to beg forgiveness.  

Perhaps we should start focusing on that aspect of taking a knee.  And start recognizing that we could all start availing ourselves of it.  We could all stand to be more humble.  More empathetic.  

We can only hope.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Here's Your Sign

When NASCAR tells you the flag is racist, it just might be racist.  To quote Bill Engvall, here's your sign.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone following the sport. In 2015, then CEO and Chairman Brian France referred to the flag as an “offensive and divisive symbol.” He subsequently implemented a program at all racing events in which fans could trade a Confederate flag for an American one.

The ban comes just days after the circuits only African American racer, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, called for the flag’s ouster. Regarding the ban, Wallace would tell Fox News, “Hats off to NASCAR. … It was a huge, a pivotal moment for the sport - a lot of backlash but it creates doors that allow the community to come together as one.

To CNN - “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to NASCAR to race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.

So, really, it's time to take a hard look at the Confederate Battle Flag and own up to what it really stands for.

First, our understanding of its history is all messed up.  It's not the flag of the Confederacy.  It was a battle flag, not the official flag of the Confederacy as a whole.  The first official flag looked like this:

The Stars and Bars that many in the South are so affectionate for was a square battle flag.  The battle flag was so popular and the official flag was so easily confused with the American flag, it was adopted as a small section of the official flag, the square stars and bars on a white flag.  The full flag that we all know and are discussing now was the CSA Naval Jack, from 1863-1865 or the battle flag of the armies of Northern Virginia or Tennessee.  

Second, it was a flag for a period of the south that only existed for five years.  The Confederacy only existed from 186 through 1865.  Why is that period of five years the one that we want to use to remember the South?  Why of all things have we tied Southern heritage to the Confederate States of America?

The history of the Confederate Naval Jack and the statues and monuments that are being finally torn down reveal a lot about that.  Like the statues and monuments that only started being erected during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era, the Rebel Flag only really resurfaced in America after World War II.  Eighty years after the Civil War.  

The flag was first use in 1948 by Strom Thurmond and the old Dixiecrat Political Party, as a symbol of their "state's rights" campaign.  State's rights to keep from desegregating and integrating the schools.  It then became a symbol of Jim Crow, of separate but equal, of white's only.

The Rebel flag was displayed in front of each school where segregation was attempted.

It has been associated with the Klu Klux Klan.   It's associated with the Nazi Party of America.  It's associated with Neo-Nazis across the globe.  Germany rightly banned the Nazi flag and Nazi paraphernalia after World War II.  So what do Neo-Nazis and other Nazi sympathizers display?  The Rebel flag.

So, again, why are we so insistent on keeping the South associated with it, if it's not for racist purposes?  Why do we view Southern heritage so tied to that flag, unless it is truly a reminder for "blacks to know their place?"

There are so many other things about the South we could celebrate.  How about we remember the 100,000 or so Southerners that fought for the Union army?  How about we celebrate Southerner abolitionists?  Or the great diversity of the South that has always existed?  How come we don't teach about people like Cassius Clay?  The real story of Harriet Tubman?

The South has so much more that can be celebrated. We make better food, we tell better stories, we create great art, we have some of the best music, and we have a lot in our history that should make us proud.

Why are we so insistent on celebrating the parts that should forever shame us?

Monday, June 15, 2020

On the Basis of Sex

The Supreme Court handed down a landmark case in civil rights today and a great present for Pride Month.  In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 590 U.S. ____ (2020), the Court in a 6-3 opinion confirmed that Title VII protections extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.  Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion.

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst c/o Texas Tribune

"Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender.  The answer is clear.  An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.  Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.

Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result.  Likely, they weren’t thinking about many of the Act’s consequences that have become apparent over the years, including its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees.  But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.  When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest.  Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitle to its benefit.

Up to today, twenty-eight states had little to no workplace protection for the LGBT community.  Texas is one such state.  While some individual cities do have protections in place, as a state, Texas has no law on the books protecting employees from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Meaning, yesterday you could have been fired in Texas if your employer learned you were homosexual, and there would be no recourse.  The employer would have been able to do so with no repercussion under the law.

That was the case for the three plaintiff's in the instant case.  

Gerald Bostock worked for Clayton County, Georgia as a child welfare advocate. His tenure with the county was marked by recognition and award. Ten years into his work, he began to participate in a gay recreational softball league. Soon after that, influential members of the community allegedly made disparaging comments about his participation and his sexual orientation. Bostock was fired for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee.

Donal Zarda worked as a skydiving instructor for Altitude Express in New York. After several seasons with the company, Zarda mentioned he was gay and was fired days later.

Aimee Stephens worked at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Garden City, Michigan. When she got the job, she presented as a male. Two years into her employment, she began treatment for despair and loneliness and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The recommended treatment was to begin living as a woman. In her sixth year with the funeral home, Stephens wrote a letter to her employer explaining she would be living as a woman after she returned from her upcoming vacation. The funeral home fired her before she left, telling her “this is not going to work out.

Their stories are not alone.  They could be repeated by thousands others across the country.  And we know that the discrimination that all like them have faced is wrong and has always been wrong.  That their orientation or gender identity has nothing to do with their work, and should not impact it.  The Court recognized this truth.

The Court reached its decision looking at the "basis of sex" language, proving that you cannot discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation without also discriminating based on biological sex.

"An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual based in part on sex. It doesn’t matter if other factors beside the plaintiff’s sex contributed to the decision. And it doesn’t matter if the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group. If the employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee - put differently, if changing the employee’s sex would have yielded a different choice by the employer - a statutory violation has occurred. Title VII’s message is ‘simple but momentous’: An individual employee’s sex is ‘not relevant to the selection, evaluation, or compensation of employees.’ Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 239 (1989) (plurality opinion).

The statute’s message for our cases is equally simple and momentous: An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.

It's so plain, it makes you wonder why this has taken so long to be recognized?  Why twenty-eight states have resisted such protection?  Why it has taken so long for federal recognition?  What discrimination against the LGBT community in employment would benefit any business?

Is it just our fear and bias?  Are we that transparent in our prejudice?

Harder question - how much of this discrimination has been championed by the Church?  And on what basis can we justify such behavior?

I know I'm going to hear fears of how this will force churches to hire homosexual ministers or how it is just another way that the church is being "forced" to "accept homosexuality."

Gorsuch puts the nail in these fears in his opinion.

"But worries about how Title VII may intersect with religious liberties are nothing new; they even predate the statute’s passage. As a result of its deliberations in adopting the law, Congress included an express statutory exception for religious organizations. 2000e-1(a). This Court has also recognized that the First Amendment can bar the application of employment discrimination laws ‘to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers.’ Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171, 188 (2012). And Congress has gone a step further yet in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488, codified at 42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq. That statute prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that doing so both furthers a compelling governmental interest and represents the least restrictive means of furthering that kind of interest. 2000bb-1. Because RFRA operates as a kind of super statute, displacing the normal operation of other federal laws, it might supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases. See 2000bb-3."

There is no other way to describe this - today's decision is a decisive victory for civil rights in this country.  It should be celebrated by us all.  It will likely have sweeping impacts far beyond employment into education, health care, housing, and financial credit.  All areas in which we can begin making sure that everyone, all people are treated equally under the law.

This is a great beginning, but there is still a long way to go.  The Trump administration on Friday released a new regulation limiting the definition of sex discrimination in health care to exclude the transgender, effectively yanking health insurance from them.  In a global pandemic.  

This also has no impact on discrimination in public accommodations, where discrimination based on sex is not barred by federal law.  Thirty-one states have no protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public accommodations.  This means hotels, motels, and other lodging can deny rooms to guests based on the sexual orientation of the couple, the gender identity of the guest upon arrival, etc. without repercussion.  Are we really at a point where there needs to be an LGBTQ equivalent of the Green Book?  

Hopefully not.  Hopefully that domino will fall.  And the next and the next and the next.  Until we can finally live up to our standards, "that all men are created equal."

That all people are created equal.

And we should treat them accordingly.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

11 Years

It seems like yesterday. And I can remember it like it was. Getting up early to drive to Wills Point. Braving the heat to try and take pictures with the Groomsmen and the Bridesmaids outside of the theater and on the nearby railroad tracks. Sweating profusely. Butterflies in my stomach. Nervous excitement, hoping everything went off without a hitch.

The service is mostly a blur, though I will always remember the first sight of you.  The reception went by even faster.  So quickly it was a challenge to see everyone.  

There are many lessons we learned that day. How we would take more time that afternoon if we could. How we would have the reception in a place with better air conditioning. How hard it is to get clear glitter off of you when it’s glued on by sweat. How we should have made a priority to actually eat at the reception, instead of just shoving cake up our noses. 

We’ve learned a lot of lessons in the eleven years since. Big and small and a few painful. 

But I would do each and everyone of them over again as long as they are with you. 

These eleven years have both flown by and felt like we have known and belonged to each other for far longer. I look forward to the next eleven, and the next eleven, and so on and so on. 

I love you Gorgeous!

Bigger than Godzilla,
All the way to the moon,
To infinity and beyond,
To the ends of the earth...

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Dennis O'Neil

DC Comics

Celebrated comic book writer Dennis O'Neil passed away yesterday at the age of 81.  He died in his home of natural causes.

I can almost guarantee, whatever part of Batman you like, you have O'Neil to thank.  O'Neil was credited of bringing Batman back to his crime roots after the campy 1960s television show.  He revamped Two Face and the Joker, and created the eco-terrorist R'as Al Ghul.  He remained a Batman editor and influences into the 2000s. 

O'Neil was also noted for bringing social issues into this comic book writing.  He penned the famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic above that asked the question why superheroes did not address the social issues of the day.  He also wrote the later issue dealing with drug abuse and addiction in which Green Arrow's sidekick speedy dealt with heroin withdrawals.  

People often forget that comics have been about social justice since their founding.  Superman was fighting slumlords in his inception.  Captain America famously punched Hitler on his cover.  Marvel Comics in the 1960s focused on civil rights.  In the 1970s, Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk dealt with Women's Lib.  Social justice is the lifeblood of comic books and superheroes. 

O'Neil was one of the greatest writers to give that a voice.

He will be missed.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Loving Day

Today is Loving Day, a holiday commemorating the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in the United States at the time.  At a time such as this, Loving Day is one of many important commemorations that occur in June which need to be reflected on, discussed, and remembered.  

Anti-miscegenation laws banned interracial marriage, particularly banning marriage between non-whites and whites.  These laws had existed in many places since the foundation of the United States of America and had not really started to be repealed until after World War II.  At the time of the Supreme Court's decision, the laws remained on the books in sixteen states.

Loving v. Virginia was brought by Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter Loving, a white man and a black woman, a couple who had met and courted for seven years before their marriage.  They first met when Mildred was 11 and Richard was 17.  He was a family friend and over the years they became close.  They married in Washington, D.C. in 1958, when Mildred was 18.  Reportedly, she did not know that interracial marriage was a crime.  They were arrested a few weeks after they returned to their hometown north of Richmond, Virginia.  They pled guilty to charges of "cohabitating as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the commonwealth," and avoided jail by agreeing to leave Virginia and not return for twenty-five years.  The Lovings then moved to Washington, D.C. and began to pursue their appeal.  They wrote the U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union.  The ACLU was able to appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Chief Justice Warren wrote the majority opinion, finding that "the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides within the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State."

The persistence of the Lovings achieved a landmark decision for civil rights in the United States.  Their steadfast devotion to each other, their steadfast declaration of love achieved what politicians and law-makers could not.  

In recognition of the day, we are called to remember. To remember that anti-miscegenation laws are a part of our past.  To not shy away from discussing them.  How many of us come from families or communities where we recognize interracial marriage is not illegal, but we know we would be punished for dating or marrying outside of our race?  Or live in communities that make interracial couples feel like outsiders?  How many of us would warn our children against dating someone who is black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.?

Though we preach in churches that there is "no longer Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female" or black or white, how many of us live as if we are still to be separate?  Though we are all party of the one body of Christ.  These are still questions we need to expose and explore.

Today is also a day for love.  To honor the Loving's marriage by showing love to our fellow human beings.  To gather and celebrate.  Today should be a day of racial unity.  To demonstrate love and harmony between us.

To learn more about Loving Day, visit the website here.  It contains great resources for continued learning on Loving v. Virginia, anti-miscegenation laws, and other similar stories.  We could all stand to be better educated on the subject.

For while we need to see color, so that we can recognize patterns and correct them, so we can celebrate our diversity, so we can strengthen us all, we must remember that love is colorblind.

Thursday, June 11, 2020


It's so had to believe this little girl is six years old. I can still remember the joy of finding out Jamie was pregnant. The excitement in learning that Baby K would be a little girl. On the first trip false alarm trip to the hospital. Waiting through the night and into the afternoon for you to be born.

It's been amazing to see how quickly you spoke and spoke so well.  How you've dived into learning and are so interested in science and in medicine.  How you love to experiment and how quickly you are picking up reading.

You have been such a blessing to my life.  You have challenged me.  You have made me smile.  You make me prouder than anything just being your dad.

Happy 6th Birthday, little girl!

I hope it is amazing.  Here's to all the ice cream and cake you can eat!


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

One Ranger, One Riot

As mentioned yesterday, today I would like to discuss the Texas Rangers.

No, not the baseball team.

The law enforcement agency.  The mythic Texas lawman depicted in "The Lone Ranger" and "Walker, Texas Ranger."  The ultimate, hyper-capable cowboy sheriff who rides in on a white horse and saves the day.  "One riot, one ranger" and all that.

Those Texas Rangers have become the subject of much discussion of late, thanks to the removal of the Texas Ranger statue at Love Field.  The statue was removed by the City of Dallas and moved to storage in light of the protests around the world regarding American police brutality.  

As expected, many voices have since decried the action, believing it erases history or caves to the rioters.  In truth, there is a lot of justified reason for taking down this particular statue, particularly in light of the ongoing conversation about police brutality.

The history of the Texas Rangers is littered with use of excessive force, police brutality, and racial prejudice/outright racism.  The early rangers completely wiped out the Karankawa tribe, the coastal Native American tribe.  They operated as death squads along the Texas-Mexico border, executing hundreds to thousands of Mexican-Americans, particularly in 1915-1919 or "Hora de Sangre" or the hour of blood.  To the point where they were viewed as the equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan for Mexican-Americans.  "Los Diablos Tejanos."  Among that population, the Rangers mythic motto, "One riot, one ranger" would be flipped to indicate the power they could wield - "One ranger, one riot."  The Rangers kept blacklists of ethnic Mexicans, performing the "evaporation" in which they would make those on the list disappear as if they had just evaporated into thin air.  

That's just the tip of the iceberg.  The Porvenir Massacre of 1918 in which they executed every hispanic male in the town.  Their role in capturing runaway slaves.  Their role in opposing and preventing the de-segregation of schools.  

Read Cult of Glory by Doug Swanson.  Read The Injustice Never Leaves You by Monica Munoz Martinez.  

Yes, there were great, just Texas Rangers. There are still great Texas Rangers.  But we have to stop denying their problematic history.

This can be very clearly seen with respect to the statue that has been removed.  The statue in Love Field was modeled after Ranger Sgt. E.J. "Jay" Banks.  And Banks has a particularly complicated history in the Texas Rangers.

Banks was the commanding Ranger sent by Former Governor Allan Shivers to prevent the initial attempts at integration in Texas.  He was sent to Mansfield ISD to prevent black students from entering the high school, despite a Federal court order and he was then sent to Texarkana Junior College to prevent black students from enrolling.  At both locations, Banks and his Rangers stood by and watched the white mobs. 
Banks would describe the white mob at Mansfield as follows.  "They were just 'salt of the earth' citizens.  They were concerned because they were convinced that someone was trying to interfere with their way of life."

That doesn't really sound like someone we want to honor, does it.

Banks was captured on film in front of Mansfield, leaning against a tree, standing by while the white students have gathered and hung an effigy of a black person off the top of the school, right in front of the entrance.

So, here's the question.  Which picture upsets you more?

care of Fort-Worth Star Telegram

care of D Magazine

They both represent the same man.

The first one represents something we are honoring.  When we erect a monument, in a public place, it reflects something we are celebrating.  

The second one reflects actual history.  It's the facts.

The second one is what we must remember.  It's how we should accurately reflect on his legacy.  

The first is just a piece of metal.


Acknowledgements to the right honorable Govteach and his blog on the topic, particularly leading me to the historic photo. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Story We Tell

Updated from Facebook August 17, 2017 - important again as the governor of Virginia has ordered the statue of Robert E Lee to be removed from Richmond (now blocked by a judge) and in light of the removal of the Texas Ranger statue at Love Field (more on that tomorrow)

See the source image

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory. You have no control: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” – History Has Its Eyes on You, Hamilton, Act 1

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice” – Mark Twain

There has been a lot written over the past weeks about the place and removal of Confederate statues from cities across the country. Some good, much very disheartening and often disturbing. It is clear that this issue stirs up passions on both sides of the issue. And for the life of me, I cannot understand why.

Don’t get me wrong, I can understand and sympathize with the passion of the people who want to tear them all down. I understand what the statues represent to them. They represent oppression and hatred. A glorification of an ugly stain on our history. A tool that was used to keep African Americans oppressed and remind them of their place (more on this in a minute).

But I have yet to see a cogent argument as to why they should remain, nor a coherent statement as to what the statues and flags and other memorabilia represent to those in favor of them. The most common responses uttered are “we shouldn’t erase history” and “heritage/history not hate”. But both of these are extremely problematic.

Regarding “erasing history
First, this isn’t about erasing history, it’s about bringing it to light and remembering it for what it truly was. The Civil War was fought over slavery. Period. It represents one of the ugliest stains in our history in which one side was fighting to perpetuate an institution that should have been eradicated centuries ago.

We have to end this lie of the noble, benign Confederacy. The “lost cause of the Confederacy” is a lie perpetuated by the South after their loss in the war. A “literary expression of the despair of a bitter, defeated people over a lost identity.” Rollin G. Osterweis. It remains an attempt by the South to control its narrative and make the cause of the Confederacy look nobler than it was in actuality. And it has been perpetuated by writers and historians who choose to engage in this false narrative. Fluid prejudice.

Again, the Civil War was fought over slavery. Period. We should repeat it until it sticks.

But, state’s rights? Yes, it was about the right of a state to continue to perpetuate slavery.

But, economics? Yes, it was about the economics of slavery and its impact on the South. To quote Alexander Hamilton, “A civics lesson from a slaver. Hey neighbor, your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor. ‘We plant seeds in the South. We create.’ Yeah, keep ranting. We know who’s really doing the planting.

But Northern Aggression? Ah, yes, northern aggression, after the Southern states took the highly debated step of secession (to keep slavery) and with the South being the first to open fire.

Yes, there are complex reasons for every war. There are complex reasons why each and every person fights for a particular side. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that the root cause, the apex issue of the Civil War was slavery. Of the 11 states that seceded, 6 of the ordinances of secession or explanation of secession include slavery as a cause of their secession. In four states, the blame for secession is squarely on the abolitionist movement. The Civil War was about slavery.

And when we approach it like, the Confederacy is not something that should be glorified or celebrated. It should be remembered, but it should be something that we are ashamed of and should be something that grieves us. Any remembrance of the Confederacy should be designed to prevent it from ever happening again. And that raises the question, do the monuments as they exist achieve this? How do they present the Confederacy?

Heritage/History Not Hate
Second, we have to stop pretending these monuments are about remembering the war instead of honoring the men that are represented and glorifying an idealized benign Confederacy.

There are ways to erect monuments to the stains of our past that let us remember and contextualize them, without glorifying them. You can look at how Germany has handled their troubled history from World War II. Monuments exist for the victims, not the perpetrators. They are often purposefully off-putting to remind you of the weight of the atrocity. “Lest we forget.”  The spot of Hitler’s death is marked by a simple, small placard, over a small patch of open land in a parking lot. Nazi regalia is prohibited from exhibition in the media, with some exceptions for educational purposes. It is contextualized, it is controlled, but it is not forgotten or deleted from history. It is treated as the stumbling stone or mill stone that it is.

And we could have done the same. We could have monuments to the victims of slavery that reminded us of the horrible institution that it was and the devastation that it made. We could have limited Confederate display to appropriate settings, like museums and battlefields, where the focus of the memorial is on the history, the sacrifice, and the weight that it carries. We did not.

The majority of these monuments to the Confederacy instead appear to celebrate the particular figures role in the Confederate army. They are often big, bold icons portraying the Confederate leaders in their finest. They are given places of prominence, whether it be in front of courthouses, on entire avenues dedicated to the monuments (Monument Avenue in Richmond, or perhaps more appropriately, the Avenue of Second Place Trophies), and filling the sides of mountains (Stone Mountain, Georgia). If you knew nothing of American history, you might assume the South had won the war.

These men are honored by their memorials, quite literally put up on a pedestal. And we should be clear, these men are not honored for their lives after the Confederacy or for their accomplishments before. They are remembered and honored in their full Confederate regalia. They are remembered for being the celebrated leaders of the Confederacy, instead of the traitors to or enemy agents of the United States that they are.

To argue otherwise is to ignore the history of the erection of the monuments themselves. The majority of these monuments were not even erected in the remaining years of the 1800s. The vast majority of these monuments were erected between 1900 and 1920, in the middle of Jim Crow, and with the resurgence of the KKK. Yes, the monuments were put up to honor Confederate leaders, but the timing of their creation makes it clear that the motivation was to physically symbolize white terror against blacks in the segregated South. This would also explain the motivation of putting them in front of courthouses and in town squares. They were put in places of prominence for a reason. After that peak, the building slowed to a crawl until the middle of the 1960s, coinciding with the Civil Rights movement. Again, this was not coincidental.

The Slippery Slope
And I want to cut off one line of disingenuous thinking before it begins – if you cannot understand the difference or find the line between having the Confederate generals on Stone Mountain and the presidents on Mount Rushmore, between the statues in Monuments Avenue and the memorials on the National Mall, even between a statue of Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King, then it will do no good for us to continue to discuss. For a slippery slope argument to work, the feared inevitable next step must truly have a logical link between them without as big of an apparent leap. There is a huge difference between memorials to honor a particular person for their notable achievements despite their flawed histories and memorials that honor a deplorable cause that a particular person championed. The two are not synonymous.

This is why the worry over removing statues of George Washington because he once owned slaves is overblown.  The fact that George Washington owned slaves is an unfortunate part of his history, but it is not something that defines his history.  The accomplishments that are celebrated when we erect monuments and statues to George Washington are his leadership in the Revolutionary War, his presidency, his restraint in walking away from the government and not becoming an equivalent king.  We're not celebrating his ownership of slaves or his status as a slave owner.  This isn't erasing the problems in his history, but putting them in the proper perspective. 

With a Confederate Statue, or the Confederate Flag, we are celebrating the insurrection that was wages for the ability to own slaves.  We are celebrating those who fought to continue and further that right to own people.  We are honoring the wrong things.

Context is important in understanding this point.  The statues of Confederates are often placed in locations that do not make sense in context.  Places where the honored does not have a connection.  Places like in front of courthouses, in town squares.  Places where their purpose of intimidation become much more apparent.

Again, think of the differences of placing a statue of Roberet E Lee in his Confederate uniform in front of a courthouse in Alabama and of placing one in civilian dress at Washington and Lee University.  One serves as a reminder of the Confederacy and what it stood for in a place of prominence in the town - a place where African Americans would constantly be reminded of the history of oppression in the South.  A place where it served as a reminder every time the went to vote, to petition the government, to seek justice, etc.  As opposed to a statue remembering his service as the president of the college.

So the question again becomes why? Why is it so important that these memorials stand? Are they truly serving their purposes as a solemn reminder? Do they shame us? And if they do not, what do they stand for?

In particular, why is it so important that they remain when we know that they offend so many others? Why is the celebration of the white Confederacy so important? Do we truly care so little for each other that we stop listening to other voices when they tell us that they are problematic, oppressive, and offensive? If you are a Christian, do you love your African American brother and sister so little that you would put one of these monuments or the Confederate flag between you?

Tear most of them down and tear them down now. Let the ones that remind us of the gravity of the war stay, such as at Gettysburg, where we would expect memorials to the Blue and the Grey. Where it is impractical to remove them, contextualize them. For example, at Stone Mountain, the Martin Luther King Freedom Bell should be added (“Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia”). But by all means, do not let us continue to idealize a Confederacy that never existed.

The South has so much more that can be celebrated. The food, the music, the natural beauty, the literature and art. We can celebrate this all day and every day. These stone monuments, however, have far outstayed their welcome. 

Let’s tell a better story going forward.

Also, for good context on the problematic way we have presented the history of the South, I highly recommend the Southin' Off video series by Trae Crowder.  He uses language that I would not, but he really knows his history and explains it very well.  I can't recommend the ones labeled Southin' Off enough.