Editors’ Note: Cross-posted from The Free Lance-Star, August 18, 2020. For more than five decades (1952-2008), Paul Harvey broadcast on hundreds of radio stations his famous line: You know the news, now for the rest of the story . . . often known by the acronym TROTS. Sometimes it takes many years for the rest of the story to emerge. The contemporary dialogue concerning systemic racism, the Confederacy, and monuments is one of those moments. Virginia is scouring its laws on the books to excise racially discriminatory codes and educators are reviewing textbooks with a similar eye for the rest of the story.
History is not always written by the winners. Take the Confederacy. (Some would say, “Take the Confederacy, please.”)
Go into most towns in this part of the world and you’ll find something commemorating that rebellion. Drive down a state or U.S. highway in Virginia, and you have a good chance of spotting a marker noting some often-obscure fact about the Late Unpleasantness.
The Southern rebellion was defeated, at the cost of more than 600,000 American lives, yet it is memorialized to the point of exhaustion, and to many Americans, sentimentalized far past that point.
A New York Times article in February reported that there were more than 1,740 Confederate monuments, statues, flags, place names and other symbols of the Lost Cause in the United States. As of February, fewer than 115 had been removed, a number that grows almost daily in these “woke” times.
By contrast, fewer than 100 monuments pay tribute to the civil rights movement, in which Black and white Americans joined forces to bravely move us toward a more equal society.
- Improvements will be made at the corner of Charles and William Streets to give context to the slave auction block that resided there until it was removed for cleaning and eventual residence in the Fredericksburg Area Museum. There’s also money for a new exhibit at the museum about the auction block.
- A marker at the site of a former commercial wharf at the end of Canal Street will memorialize John DeBaptiste, an 18th century African American entrepreneur.
- A marker will also be placed at the former Greyhound Bus Depot at Princess Anne and Wolfe streets, which was a stop on the Freedom Riders’ trail in their journey south in 1961.
There are other Black Americans with Fredericksburg area roots who deserve memorializing: Dr. Urbane Bass, James Farmer and Mildred Loving, to name just three of them.
We can start with the slave auction block, John DeBaptiste and the Freedom Riders. There are plenty of other stories yet to be told. Kudos to Fredericksburg for starting to tell them.
As William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Well, if the past still lives, here’s to those who are trying to present it in its entirety.