After reading the articles in our paper about the request to remove the statue at the courthouse and taking a few days to think it over, I was encouraged to share some thoughts on it. Clinton is a small, close-knit community and I guess I never gave consideration that those sort of feelings might exist here to this degree. Almost all of our citizens have had or will have the opportunity to interact with one another at some point.
So where is this hostility coming from? Let me try to explain it this way. No one I know of has been enslaved in today’s society and no one I know of has enslaved anyone. I see white and black children playing together and they get along fine. But as these children get older, their attitudes and outlooks change. This can only make me believe it must be from what they are taught, not only from family from generation to generation but also from what is taught in our schools.
So my point is what will removing a statue accomplish? It won’t change history or what has happened in the past. If the ultimate goal of the black community is removing the statue to remove reminders, then shouldn’t the reminders that teaching brings also be stopped? Don’t get me wrong: while I can understand how some in the black community may view the statue as a slavery symbol, I am sure some do not, and I’m sure I’m safe in saying that the majority of white folks don’t regard the statue as a badge of honor to slavery. It’s the farthest thing from their minds. For many of them, it’s a tie to a family member or an ancestor that fought and/or died for a cause at the time, for the North or South, good or bad, and they don’t want to lose that.
I would ask the NAACP to rethink and reconsider their request to have the statue removed for several reasons. While I can understand what they may feel they have to gain by it being removed, I would ask them to also consider what others may stand to lose. I’m not going to sit here and say its removal is not going to instill bitterness in some, as I’m sure it will. There is not a victory for either side. It only stands to divide even more.
I would also ask the NAACP to possibly view this statue as another fight. It is our history, not only white folks’ history but black folks’ history as well. Could it not be possible to stand back and view this statue as a reminder of our past to encourage an attempt at a better future? To me, this is reason enough for everyone to want to leave it there.
Let me finish by saying this. I have several black friends, some of whom I don’t get to see very often. While attending the street fair this past Saturday, I was at the car show and “bumped” into several of them. In every instance, we shook hands, had a quick embrace and talked of what each of us had been up to. Some even asked how my wife was doing as they had remembered she has had some health issues in the past few years. I felt this to be very special that they would remember and ask. One of them, and I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning his name, Johnny Copeland, and I caught sight of each other and immediately commented on how “ugly” we thought the other one was. A private joke between Johnny and me from years gone by. But the bottom line is this, there was no racial differences. It never entered our thoughts; we did not allow such to diminish our friendship or moments together.
As I left the grocery store Sunday, I passed a black gentleman going in. We almost simultaneously said with a smile, “Good morning, sir.” It reminded me of something I was once told, “Smiles are contagious — respect, kindness and courtesy are free.” It’s hard for someone to concentrate on differences when you are smiling back at them. Shouldn’t that be the image our community represents?