Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has proclaimed April 2016 to be “Confederate Heritage Month.”
Bryant points to the importance of us all “reflect[ing] on our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes” as justification for his declaration.
As a history teacher, I wholeheartedly agree that it is important that we analyze our past to avoid mistakes in the future. As a black Mississippian, I simply cannot find anything to celebrate about the Confederacy. However, if the central purpose of this proclamation is to educate, then by all means let’s start educating. What shall the first lesson be? I’ll provide one suggestion.
If we are to learn about Confederate Heritage, it is of paramount importance that we first understand why we (Mississippians) were apart of the Confederacy in the first place. According to A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery -- the greatest material interest of the world.”
The problem with our attempt to “reflect” is the fact that too many of us deny that the defense of slavery was the “engine” of the Confederacy.
These are not the words of some liberal revisionist trying to make Mississippi and the Confederacy out to be historical villains. These are the words from the state government of Mississippi. The adjective “thoroughly” makes it abundantly clear that the rationale behind Mississippi’s secession was slavery. I wonder why, when we currently “reflect on our nation’s past” many people take an obdurate stance against this notion.
In Jefferson Davis’ Inaugural Address, he further accentuates the main interest of this newly established Confederacy. He wrote, “[As] an agricultural people, whose chief interest is the export of a commodity required in every manufacturing country, our true policy is peace, and the freest trade which our necessities will permit.”
Just insert “cotton” where it reads commodity and you will have a clearer picture of what Davis was stating. Slavery was the means by which this “commodity” that was required in every manufacturing country was produced.
By this point, we have the rationale from the state government on why Mississippi seceded from the Union (slavery) and we have the “chief interest” as the export of a “commodity” (cotton) from the President of the Confederacy. I am clueless as to why these two pieces of “heritage” are difficult to digest. I guess more reflection is needed.
I am not narrow-minded enough to think that slavery is the only linkage to the Confederacy, just like an auto mechanic knows that the engine is not the only part of a car. The problem with our attempt to “reflect” is the fact that too many of us deny that the defense of slavery was the “engine” of the Confederacy.
So, if celebrating Confederate Heritage Month means we reflect on the immoral, inhumane chattel slavery that the Confederacy defended and how the legacy of slavery ripples to today… I guess I have been celebrating Confederate Heritage Month for quite some time.
Timothy Abram is a U.S. history teacher at West Tallahatchie High School in Webb, Mississippi. He is a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi.