Our package this month began with diversity chairman Richard Prince's inquiry about whether or how newspaper and news site opinionizers had discussed the lessons of the movie "12 Years a Slave."
He said he had seen many columns but so far only one editorial, in the Boston Globe.
He did not get overwhelmed with "here's one you missed."
He did get a lively discussion going.
Prince and several participants in the AOJ members' discussion list described the patterns of memorializing Confederates from post-Reconstruction to recently. The tradition is obvious in street and highway naming in Virginia, for example, where there are numerous thoroughfares named for Robert E. Lee. Of course, in the North and West we have a lot like Grant Avenue, Sheridan Road and Lincoln....
Erich Wagner of the Alexandria (Va.) Times provoked some attention when he found that a local 1950s law still on the books required that new city streets running north-south be named after rebel military leaders, even ones who were not from Virginia.
Is there an ordinance or statute about this still on the books in other parts of the Old Dominion, or elsewhere, too? Tradition’s one thing; exclusionary law, another.
Prince's commentary on the South's pattern of memorials said Wikipedia had found 25 memorials to Jefferson Davis. And, getting to his most relevant points, he said some such monuments to "The Lost Cause" have been targets of published criticism -- but not so much in editorial pages.
He wrote: "Today's editorial page editors do not seem eager to tamper with the residue of those times."
Inquiring widely, and pointedly in cities known to have been centers of Confederate culture, he built a column around the concept.
He got "we haven't editorialized [on this]" from Richmond and Raleigh.
Atlanta, he found, was not loaded with Rebel statues, but a former editor there, Cynthia Tucker, said Georgia had poked a "stick in the eye" of the 1950s-60s Civil Rights movement, putting the St. Andrew's Cross (a key part of the Confederate flag) onto the state flag.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran op-ed and blogging on removing a memorial to a white supremacist from the capitol grounds. It had become an issue because the statue would be removed for needed repairs; it appears the removal will be permanent.
Open mind in Deep South
Prince quoted recent AOJ president Bob Davis, editor of the Anniston (Ala.) Star, at length about to possibility of a constructively educational middle ground between recognizing monuments to those who suffered for the Lost Cause and seeing them as approval of the effort to preserve slavery and its evils.
He quoted Davis as suggesting "editorial pages that seek to persuade the readers that there are more sides to an issue than two. We can recognize the wrongness of the war launched by the South in an attempt to prolong slavery. Yet we can note the bravery of those on both sides who fought in it, particularly those who had very little to gain."
Peder Zane, a columnist for the News & Observer in Raleigh, weighed in on removing a Rebel statue from the North Carolina capitol grounds. He compared it to removing Joe Paterno's statue from a place of honor at Penn State, and said in part, "Tearing down this singularly prominent monument would send a powerful message that we know our history well enough, care about it deeply enough, to control it."
In a later email, Prince said: "In the cases I mentioned, the editorial pages seem to be following rather than leading. There were, of course, examples during the civil rights movement where the editorial pages led, such as Eugene Patterson in Atlanta, but in the Nov. 4 column the papers seemed to be saying, 'let's not rock the boat,' and in the Dec. 18 column seemed to be commenting on what was initiated by others in the community."
He did another column, on the shortage of memorials, or indeed in some cases lack of any public recognition at all, about black leaders of their states during Reconstruction.
Opinion-page work he found about "12 years":
- Noah Berlatsky, the Atlantic: 12 Years a Slave's Reminder: Slaves Didn't Win Freedom by Being Manly (Oct. 18)
- Joanne M. Braxton, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.: Watching '12 years a Slave' in the shadow of the Emancipation Oak (Oct. 26)
- Callie Crossley with Phillip Martin, Kim McLarin, Peniel Joseph, Gayle Pemberton, "Basic Black," WGBH-FM, Boston: Hollywood and the Slave Narrative
- Chauncey DeVega, Salon: The scary lesson of "12 Years a Slave": How little America has changed (Oct. 23)
- Editorial, Boston Globe: '12 Years a Slave': How slavery looked to victims
- Demetria L. Lucas, the Grio: '12 Years a Slave': Black audiences need more than slave narratives
- Kenneth R. Morefield, Christianity Today: 12 Years a Slave: What could any of us do, but pray for mercy? (Oct. 18)
- Kirsten West Savali, the Grio: Why the black backlash against '12 Years a Slave'?
- Starita Smith, McClatchy-Tribune News Service: Why you must see "12 Years a Slave"
- Akiba Solomon, ColorLines: How '12 Years a Slave' Exposes Early Rape Culture (Oct. 28)
- Ray Subers, boxofficemojo.com: Weekend Report: 'Ender' Wins Box Office 'Game,' 'Thor' Mighty Overseas
- Wendi C. Thomas, Commercial Appeal, Memphis: Nathan Bedford Forrest Park an ugly anchor to an embarrassing past (Feb. 9)
- Armond White, New York Film Critics Circle: Dud of the Week: 12 Years a Slave
Some examples of recent change Prince found:
- With Paper's Support, Confederate Name Removed From Fla. School http://bit.ly/1beGHoI
- In Memphis, Grave and Statue Remain, but Park Name Will Go http://bit.ly/1hnNFNW
So, one question:
Have we as a country, or indeed just among professional opinion workers, matured enough to be sensitive to the good parts of both cultures, and reasonable and constructive, on things like this?
-- John McClelland