Recently, someone suggested there was a monument in Greenwood Cemetery connected to the Civil War. So, I checked. There is not.
However, there is one dedicated to the veterans of all wars as well as separate ones for each of the two major world wars in our history. This doesn’t surprise me since Indiana was the first state in the West to declare its allegiance to the Union at the beginning of the Civil War. (Even though, there would eventually be several intense political battles regarding the central issue of the war, that of slavery and emancipation.)
As a northerner, I had to take a few mini history lessons to better understand the uproar around the monuments to the Civil War (and the flying of the Confederate flag), most of which are located throughout the southern states of our country. What I’ve often heard is that both the monuments and the visibility of the flag are still around more than 150 years after the war ended in testimony to "the heritage of the South."
I don’t know about you, but I hear that phrase and think slavery. Go back and look at the Cornerstone Speech delivered in March 1861 by the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stevens, saying that the "perpetuation of slavery was the principal goal and purpose of the secession and the Confederacy." This kind of statement was incorporated in the secession declaration of the 11 states that formed the Confederate States of America.
Let’s be clear: the formation of the Confederacy was an act of treason against the United States of America and those who led the war were considered traitors. Thus, monuments to them were the last thing on anyone’s mind as the country entered what is known as an era of Reconstruction followed by one of Redemption. In this context, it is especially noteworthy that the actual appearance of monuments and the flag honoring the "heritage of the South" began to take place some 30-plus years after the war ended.
According to many historians, it was during the years between 1890 and World War I when the Jim Crow laws of segregation emerged that the symbols of the Confederacy began to appear. Karen Cox, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte states that “on the surface, they were memorials to the Confederacy and their heroes, yet they were also built during a period of racial violence and strong beliefs about white supremacy.”
It was during this era, that the Supreme Court’s landmark decision upholding the state laws that racially segregated public facilities that were “separate but equal” in 1896 took over our country’s landscape.
It is well put by a historian at Harvard Kennedy School when he writes, “This was also a moment when the nation itself began to repair the wounds of the late (Civil) War by agreeing on the inferiority of African Americans. Racial segregation became the law and custom of the nation at precisely the moment when many of these moments were built.” Case in point: the one of Lee in Charlottesville was built in 1924.
I heard someone in the last weeks suggest that we ought to not pay so much attention to old monuments and become more interested in the incredible violence in cities such as Chicago. Which, by the way, is the most racially segregated city, second only to Detroit, in this country. What we need to do is connect the dots.
The raw reality of today is that the Civil War (in which over half a million people died) may have been won in 1865 by the Union and the slaves emancipated, yet the battles of freedom, justice and, in a most fundamental way, the very God-given value of human life living in skin that is not white, wages on.
Racism is so woven into the fabric of our society, most of us who are white barely recognize it for what it is: the original sin of our country that has never truly been redeemed or transformed for all of us, and, will not be, until and unless, we face the truth and take the first step toward real, deep and healing reconciliation which, I believe, begins with confession.
The Rev. Lark J Hapke served in the ministry of the United Church of Christ for more than 30 years, returning to her hometown of Michigan City in 2011.