Last week’s news from the North Carolina General Assembly — that both houses had passed resolutions formally apologizing for the institution of slavery in this state — was lauded by the NAACP and other groups concerned with social justice and civil rights.
Others were less happy with the decision. For one, an outcry was raised by the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a heritage organization open to anyone descended from those who served in the military of the states that seceded from the Union in the 1860s.
In a press release, the division’s commander, Bruce Tyson of Wilmington, blasts the lawmakers’ recent gesture.
Some readers might see Tyson’s words as a curious turn. After all, in recent years, many of those who align themselves with Confederate causes, whether for the sake of “regional pride” or family history, have tried to distance themselves from the scar of slavery, an institution most Americans view as reprehensible and as the primary cause of the Civil War.
Instead, they’ve marked their bumpers with messages like “Heritage Not Hate” and given explanations for the South’s secession that lean heavily on the struggle for “states’ rights” and a measure of political autonomy. In light of this message, some may view Tyson’s statement as a step backward for the organization.
Read it and help us answer a few questions: Does the message fall on the side of “heritage” or “hate”? Do you believe that slave-holding in North Carolina was “cruel” and “brutal” or — as Tyson appears to say — something more moderate? Does the legacy of slavery still affect the day-to-day life of North Carolinians? By issuing an apology for slavery, is North Carolina headed, as Tyson suggests, for reparations for the descendants of those who once suffered under slavery?
It’s your turn to weigh in. See the full text of Tyson’s statement below.
— Kent Priestley, staff writer
9 April 2007
The North Carolina Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, opposes the efforts of the North Carolina General Assembly to “apologize” for the historical institution of slavery. Although we do not defend the practice of slavery and recognize that it was detrimental for many North Carolinians of the time, it is simply not possible to apologize to people who are long dead on behalf of people who are long dead. We reject language that cites “the injustice, cruelty, and brutality of slavery [and] cites its historical role in perpetuating slavery and racism.” Although some of our ancestors did own slaves, there is no evidence in most cases that they were “cruel” or “brutal” toward their slaves, nor that our ancestors were, in general, racist. Moreover, it is dishonorable to condemn our ancestors for simply living according to the custom of their time.
We also reject the statement of Linda Daves, Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, who attempted to “blame” the Democratic Party for the existence of slavery and segregation. Contrary to her implication, the North Carolina citizen-soldier did not fight to preserve slavery during the War Between the States, but rather to preserve the right of North Carolina to govern itself. Likewise, the Republican Party did not usher in a “period of racial harmony” in North Carolina politics following the war. In fact, many of our ancestors were deprived of the right to vote or participate in government simply because they served North Carolina in the Confederate Army. If Daves truly believes that the state government should apologize to those who have had their political freedom denied in the past, then she should call for an apology to those war veterans who were disenfranchised by the Republican Party during Reconstruction.
At best, these bills (Senate Resolution 1557 and House Resolution 1311) are simply opportunities for politicians from both parties to grandstand and earn points from politically correct commentators and voters who happen to have slave ancestors. At worst, these bills are the first step toward financial reparations to those voters – transfers of wealth from the descendants of slave owners to the descendants of slaves.
After Senate Resolution 1557 passed unanimously last week, supporters of this legislation made it clear that they also do not believe that an apology is possible, and have made it clear that their ultimate goal is reparations. Rep. Larry Shaw of Cumberland County told the Wilmington Journal, “There should be some admission of wrongdoing here, but that’s just the beginning.” He also said, “I’m not going to call it reparations,” although it’s hard to imagine what else he could have had in mind. Sen. Doug Berger of Franklin County went so far as to blame slavery for “higher infant mortality rates among African-Americans, higher rates of HIV infection and less success in school” in the Raleigh News & Observer. These legislators are clearly trying to link the historic institution of slavery to problems in the African-American community today, so that by apologizing for slavery, the General Assembly (and by extension, the taxpayer) will be forced to take financial responsibility for these other problems.
Sen. Malcolm Graham of Mecklenburg County made it clear that the apology is insufficient for him when he told the Associated Press, “I ask the question, where do we go from here?” Graham is undoubtedly insincere when he calls on North Carolina “to have the fortitude to take a look itself in the mirror; the good, the bad, and the ugly.” He, along with Sen. Berger and the sponsors of the slavery apology resolution (Sen. Tony Rand and Rep. Larry Womble), have been instrumental over the years in defeating the Historic Monument Protection Bill, which would preserve all of North Carolina’s history for future generations. Instead, these self-serving legislators only want to examine one facet of our state’s great history – slavery – and have refused to preserve the history of the many positive contributions made to this state by its founders, many of whom owned slaves.
We encourage all House members to vote against HR 1311. Instead of making feel-good, politically-correct apologies, our elected representatives should consider ways to broaden opportunity for all citizens, encourage initiative for everyone, and foster a united people through its actions. This “apology” – while it may seem a nice gesture – is historically off base and violates the sense of personal responsibility that most North Carolinians hold.