Since moving back to my home state of North Carolina in 2018, I’ve been delving into family history, both as a hobby and as a tool for understanding my own white privilege.
I already knew that my great great grandfather died wearing a Confederate uniform at Antietam in 1862. But I didn’t know – until I moved back here – about the lynching of three (almost certainly innocent) black men in Rowan County near the birthplace of that great great grandfather in 1906. This infamous lynching occurred just four years after the lynching of two black boys – one 11 and one 13 – who allegedly killed a young white woman working in a field.
The press reported that 3000 people gathered for that 1906 lynching after midnight on August 7th and it’s possible that my grandfather – who was almost 14 at the time – could have been present. There is no one alive to ask, and it’s not the kind of story that was written up in our family histories.
I’m going to assume that someone in my family tree or someone among their friends was there for the hanging and mutilation of Jack Dillingham, Nease Gillespie, and Gillespie’s son John (who was 14 or 15 years old.) I need to claim this part of my heritage because it is true.
Everybody’s heritage includes ugly.
If we tell the truth about who we are – as individuals and as a nation – we must accept both the great moments and the shameful ones. Yes, it’s true that courageous explorers landed at Jamestown 400 years ago and it’s also true that
The powerful American Indian chief, known as Powhatan, had refused the English settlers’ demands to return stolen guns and swords at Jamestown, Va., so the English retaliated. They killed 15 of the Indian men, burned their houses and stole their corn. Then they kidnapped the wife of an Indian leader and her children and marched them to the English boats. They put the children to death by throwing them overboard and “shooting out their brains in the water,” wrote George Percy, a prominent English settler in Jamestown. And their orders for the leader’s wife: Burn her. (Source)
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
If you regularly read this blog, you know that I have an inclusive understanding of racism. We are all racist by virtue of growing up in a country built by enslaved people.
And at the bottom of the application for membership in the United Daughters of the Confederacy, it says in bold letters: We are not a racist organization.
So here’s the thing: all our organizations are racist from the PTA to the neighborhood book club to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. I would consider being a part of the UDC’s gatherings if we were serious about talking about our heritage – all of it.
In the words of Rob Lee, we need to finish the sentences:
- When someone says that “the Confederacy was about states’ rights” the end of that sentence is “to enslave human chattel.”
- When a group declares that “the Confederate flag honors the Southern soldiers who died” the end of that sentence is “to defend the right to own people with black or brown skin.“
- When there’s a discussion about honoring confederate soldiers who fought for freedom, the end of that sentence is “and to remember that their fight for freedom kept other people from being free.”
I would appreciate being in a group that had these conversations. I’m not sure that the UDC is that group but I’m willing to talk with those ladies. Maybe I would learn something. And maybe they would learn something. We’ll see.
Photograph by Alexander Gardner from the Battle of Antietam. (1862)