When my sister Amanda —AKA, “Squiffy” — was a little girl, she used to say, “more better.” As in, “Mama, please put more syrup on my French toast. It make it more better!”
Silly grammar. Silly child.
OK. Here it goes.
Confederate monuments throughout the South have been in the news, but I’ll only talk about one of those: mine. I use the singular personal possessive pronoun because I have a great sense of ownership regarding my community, and I live within earshot of the monument.
This is not the first time I have written about that Confederate monument.
In the summer of 2015, after the massacre at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, I wrote a piece for this paper regarding the Confederate battle flag which at the time was flying on South Carolina’s Statehouse grounds. My argument concerning the flag is found on the north side of the Confederate monument here in Covington. A short, histrionic rhyme below a bas-relief carving of the flag concludes by telling us we should put the Confederate battle flag away.
It reads “...FURL ITS FOLDS… NOW WE MUST.”
Go and take a look. I dare you.
The Lost Cause
The monument in Covington was erected in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The U.D.C. wanted to honor the Confederate dead and to keep alive the memory of “The Lost Cause.”
Edward Pollard’s 1867 book, “The Lost Cause” created that name embraced by white Southerners for the efforts of the former Confederacy.
What strikes me is The Lost Cause was just that – lost. I find it curious how that phrase became so very romanticized, how it anchors the mythos of unreconstructed white Southerners. Alas, one can understand that, at the time, white citizens had a need to reconcile their intransigent choice to continue to enslave humans, build an entire agrarian economy around that enslavement, secede from the Union over that enslavement, and go to war. Families and land were torn asunder. Many beloved men suffered and died.
Love is blind and grief magnifies heroism. In such cases, hindsight doesn’t see 20/20. In such cases, hindsight religiously rationalizes and romanticizes. This is a form of survival.
Our Heritage, Our Scars
Growing up in a South that was segregated until I was about 11, I suffer from childhood-onset ethnocentricity. Which is to say, I have to pay attention in a more acute way to non-white people and how they might see things.
It helps to ask questions.
Every other month or so, I make my way to The Town House Café for breakfast with my friend, the Rev. Dr. Avis Williams. Avis’ African-American family has been in the area as long as my white family has. Back in the days of the school band, I was a drummer, Avis was a flute player. So, I have been annoying her since the eighth grade.
This past May, Avis joined other pastors and community leaders at Legion Field to speak and pray in the memory of Ahmaud Arbery. A few days later, I called her to ask her opinion about the monument.
She said, “It is such a scar. It’s too ugly, Andrew. I don’t want to be constantly reminded of white supremacist thinking.”
Now, if you aren’t from around the South, “ugly” has a very specific meaning. To be “ugly” is to be cruel. Mean. Ill-mannered. Behavior unbecoming of gentlefolk. “Now, don’t be ugly.”
Center and Heart
Think of the word, “heart.” The heart of the matter. Your heart’s desire. Put your hand over your heart. The heart is a place’s center.
The Confederate monument in Covington has been in the very center of the park, in the very center of town. It has been illuminated by spotlights at night, as if to say, “Here. This is who we are. This is our heart.”
The Lighting of the Square for the Holidays, our all-day Independence Day Celebration, Music on the Square – this park, with the monument in the center of it all, is where all these events have taken place. And recently, when good citizens of our community gathered on the Square to proclaim racial equality, an event attended by white and black clergy, white and black elected leaders— including our white mayor and his wife — and featuring our African-American sheriff as a speaker, it was all under the shadow of that Confederate monument.
I don’t think the irony was lost on anyone.
More and Perfect
“More” is an adjective of action. Think of a child saying, “More!” When the word is uttered, something needs to happen.
“Perfect” is a word without the need of emphasis. Once something is perfect it cannot be improved.
Except ... “More perfect...” When those two words magically meet together in the Preamble of the United States Constitution, something astonishing happens. “More perfect” — made poetic by the deliciously redundant and incorrect grammar — indicates the fanciful, almost childlike understanding of how the Constitution is to live, and how our nation is to evolve.
Gouverneur Morris, the founding father who penned those words (and one who was an ardent opponent of slavery) is beseeching us to grow in wisdom as our Republic forges on. To continue to be “a more perfect Union.”
So, locally speaking, removing this monument from the center of town, a monument that proclaims to almost half our citizens that they are “subordinate to the superior race” will help our town and county to be even more perfect.
Or as my sister Squiffy would say, it will make it more better.
Covington native Andy Offutt Irwin is a storyteller, songwriter and professional whistler. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.