Should taxpayers fund commemorations of the Confederacy?
That's the conversation sociologist Mark Patrick George and Reverend Floyd Rose are hoping to start with a letter they sent last month to Georgia lawmakers.
They argue that Georgia’s secession ordinance of 1861 proves the Confederacy fought in order to preserve slavery, and therefore taxpayers shouldn’t pay to glorify it. George and Rose say heritage groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy are obfuscating history by suggesting the Confederacy only fought for states’ rights and southern pride.
George told GPB’s Rickey Bevington that while people today celebrate the Confederacy for a variety of reasons, private heritage groups should pay for events and memorials.
"I think these activities and the fact that we use tax revenue to offset them basically ask black folks to pay for their own degradation. And I think there are a lot of progressive, forward-thinking Georgians of all races that don't want to support these activities and don't think we should be forced to by the state."
Georgia marks a state holiday for Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday as well as for Confederate Memorial Day. On the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a group in Milledgeville reenacted the state lawmaker’s January 1861 debate about whether to secede from the Union.
Here’s the transcript of the conversation between GPB’s Rickey Bevington and sociologist Mark George:
MARK GEORGE, sociologist: What the letter is trying to do is engage the governor and the general assembly about historical fact, number one, but also that the state is asking Georgians to pay for these activities that fundamentally glorify men who advocated for white supremacy and wanted to preserve and expand slavery in the country. Our secession statement as a state states that very clearly if anybody takes the time to read it.
RICKEY BEVINGTON, GPB All Things Considered Host: What is your response to people who say that although Georgia’s secession documents are very specifically about slavery-- and I have read them-- the truth is that people fought for many different reasons?
MARK GEORGE: There’s a consensus among Civil War historians that this war was about the question of slavery. They also contend that organizations like Georgia historical societies, the Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Sons of the Confederacy were really created after the war to propagate an idea that it was about something else, like the lost cause or Northern aggression, or independence, or state’s rights for that matter. So there’s a lot of scholarship on the fact that those organizations really remade the narrative many people cling to today.
RICKEY BEVINGTON: When you privatize the telling of a state’s and a nation’s history, which you are arguing for, don’t you run the risk of changing the story and allowing private citizens behind closed doors without transparency to rewrite history.
MARK GEORGE: Absolutely, I think you do. And that’s kind of one of the roles we’ve played as to challenge that. Folks have the right as private, nonprofit organizations to kind of tell the story however they want to. But, I think there’s also a long history of folks telling that narrative.