Birthright Citizenship

I didn’t think the national debate on immigration could get any more contentious this election cycle.

I was wrong.

During an interview with Axios on HBO, President Trump spoke about his desire to modify the widely agreed, but not universally accepted (nothing ever is), legal understanding of the 14th Amendment birthright citizenship clause and revoke or terminate the birthright citizenship of children born on U.S. soil to illegal or undocumented immigrants using an executive order, believing this to be a magnet for illegal immigration, the controversially named “anchor baby” scenario. Quick point on this, children born as birthright citizens are unable to sponsor their parents for permanent residence until they turn 21 and the parents must still meet the requirements for a green card. Know the law. Get the facts. Politicians are playing you.

Whether such a proposal will be enacted is yet to be determined. This could be mere political posturing by Trump to pander to his anti-immigration base (it’s more difficult to claim to be only anti-illegal immigration when birthright citizenship is threatened), but this also could be an overture to a serious constitutional battle over restrictions to birthright citizenship and the ability of either Congress via statute or the President via executive order to define “jurisdiction” in such a way within the context of the 14th Amendment to only apply to children of citizens or lawful resident aliens and thereby exclude children born to unlawful alien residents (i.e. undocumented or illegal immigrants) based on a legal theory supported by a small number of legal scholars.

Nevertheless, let’s take a stroll through the annals of US immigration law as it pertains to birthright citizenship.

Birthright citizenship is known as jus soli (“right of the soil’ – a common law doctrine) and is a legal principle derived from English common law and is primarily practiced in the Western hemisphere being comprised of nations of immigrants. Its counterpart is jus sanguinis (“right of blood” – a civil law doctrine) and is a legal principle derived from Roman law in continental Europe and is practiced in much of the rest of the world in which national identity is largely defined by ancestry, tribe, race, or ethnicity. While US citizenship law is based on both principles and contains aspects of both (e.g. birthright citizenship, birth outside the country to a citizen parent, or naturalization), the dominant legal principle is jus soli.

While the US had no legal definition of birthright citizenship until after the Civil War, it was widely understood that birthright citizenship was a valid legal principle inherited from English common law and this legal understanding was upheld in an 1844 New York state case (Lynch v Clarke) in which it was held that a woman born to alien parents temporarily residing in New York was a U.S. citizen.

Slaves, among others, were excluded from U.S. citizenship by the 1790 Naturalization Act, an exclusion upheld by the Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ruling stating that slaves, former slaves, and their descendants were not eligible to be citizens. Additionally, Native American were not considered citizens because the tribes were considered to be outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 contained a provision that declared the recently freed slaves to be citizens but also “all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed.” Fearing the Civil Rights Act might later be repealed or struck down as unconstitutional, Congress subsequently drafted the 14th Amendment a mere two months after the passage of this act.

14th Amendment
Section 1a
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

One of the key defining cases for birthright citizenship came at the end of the 19th century. In United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) the Supreme Court held that a child born within the U.S to foreigners present on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen with four exceptions. Three of the exclusions were based on English common law. Namely, children born to foreign rulers or diplomats, children born on foreign public ships, or “children of alien enemies, born during and within their hostile occupation.” A fourth exclusion excluded specific Native Americans on the basis of their exclusion in the 1866 Civil Rights Act. The dissent argued that the phrases “not subject to any foreign power” and “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” from the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment, respectively, are synonymous and interchangeable in meaning to argue the original intent of the 14th Amendment was to exclude children born to foreigners while passing through the country.

One legal theory proposed by certain legal scholars suggests that United States v Wong Kim Ark settled the law for children born to lawful resident aliens but left the law unsettled on the question of whether children born to unlawful (i.e. undocumented or illegal immigrants) resident aliens are given birthright citizenship because the parents are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and assert that illegal immigrants are not under the full and complete jurisdiction of the United States. Furthermore, they suggest that the concept of jurisdiction was flawed in United States v Wong Kim Ark, leading some to believe jurisdiction can be defined by congressional statute or executive order in order to exclude children born to illegal immigrants, which is where we are today.

At first, I thought there was no path to challenge birthright citizenship as commonly understood, but there it is. The irony is that conservatives who often deride liberal justices for expansively reading into the text of the law will have to do the same in order to move beyond a plain reading or understanding of the 14th Amendment. Nevertheless, any congressional statute or executive order revoking or terminating birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants will swiftly be met with court challenges, setting us up for a lengthy court battle.
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Our Broken World

We live in a broken world.

No Senate hearing is going to conclusively prove or disprove beyond a shadow of a doubt the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh and I think it’s a disservice both to Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford (or Ms. Blasey as she’s known professionally) not to thoroughly investigate the various allegations, which is definitely not what’s happening right now. No, this is political theatre you’re watching (Mark Judge’s sworn testimony is conspicuously absent) with an impassioned he-said/she-said battle royale. And yet, people are rooting for their tribe rather than aiming for the truth, which, honestly, might be difficult to arrive at, and, yet, it should be attempted nonetheless.

I’ve been politically active since I was a child (seriously), so I’m accustomed to the muck and mire of power politics and the inevitable spin. This sort of thing irritates me, but I’ve been saddened and angered by the attitudes and perceptions displayed by many on social media. What I am seeing is a sad, frustrating commentary and reflection on the deep and vast brokenness of this world, man’s fallible, fallen nature, and the imperfect limitations of civic institutions.

This week has to be difficult for a lot of individuals who’ve been sexually assaulted. My Twitter feed is filled with individuals dealing with anxiety and PTSD symptoms from prior assaults. If you don’t know anyone in your life that’s been sexually assaulted, they’ve merely not told you. The percentages are that high. Assault is more pervasive that we’d like to believe and the numbers are even higher for individuals that have been sexually harassed. So, apologies in advance to my friends and family for the bombshell, but let me tell you my story (don’t freak out – I’m good – sadly much better than a lot of people – trust me just read on) because, in doing so, I want to make a few very salient points about memory and belief.

I was nearly sexually molested as a 7 or 8-year-old boy by someone a few years older than myself and I’ve never told anyone outside of my wife (and now my mother/sisters because I wanted to provide them the courtesy of advanced notice – my wife is a wise woman), but I only told her recently as a result of discussing the Kavanaugh hearings and the public foolishness I’m witnessing. Why didn’t I report it? This question rings familiar, doesn’t it? My wife literally asked me the same thing. Well, for starters, I only understood what happened to me much later (my teen years) as the result of a memory being triggered and thinking “oh, that was weird, holy crap, that’s what that was and I’m fortunate nothing happened.” I know who the individual is (or was might be a better word since I haven’t had contact with this person for most of my life) and could specifically identify them. I remember key details of a particular incident that was absolutely a precursor to a molestation attempt (fortunately interrupted) and details from other peripheral events that speak to, how to word this, the sexual proclivities of the individual in question. I’m leaving the details out not because I’m uncomfortable with sharing them (it’s honestly not a traumatic memory for me because I was never actually molested) but I don’t want to unintentionally trigger traumatic memories in others in case they’ve dealt something similar.

First and foremost, I’m not saying Kavanaugh is guilty. I do have my concerns when one repeatedly claims to have “always treated women with dignity and respect” rather than humbly acknowledging one’s high-school senior yearbook contains multiple sexually degrading comments regarding women (the denials and explanations of this are not credible). I have concerns when one portrays himself as merely a light social drinker rather than noting the immaturity of youth and the ample evidence of one’s past excessive drinking. I have my concerns when the people and friends with whom one frequents are known for the very behavior one decries. But, this tells the wrong story. A story that conflicts with Kavanaugh’s idealized public perception of one who is on a lifelong journey having demonstrated nothing but impeccable character qualities. I’ll give you a hint, no one is as good as the public face and persona they present, and that includes me. I can’t truthfully claim I have always treated women with dignity and respect, particularly in my youth. I have said and joked about things that are hurtful, wrong, or inappropriate. The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.

There are a lot of people I know who, in the utter conviction of their soul, believe that Ms. Blasey is definitely lying (one of them is wrong or lying – that’s the sad dishearting truth in all of this) out of, I sense, political tribalism and I don’t think one can reliably rule out her claims (see prior FB post of mine on the rarity of false accusations of sexual assault). I fear the Senate hearing did nothing more than confirm pre-existing biases on both sides (I’m struggling to come to grips with my own), yet Ms. Blasey is being demonized in the hearts and minds of many. When people are praying against Ms. Blasey rather than for her, I think they are treading on a fine line spiritually. About 30% of the Psalms contain negative emotions. We know that Jesus lifted the Psalms up to God the Father as prayers. We also know that God is capable of transforming the negative emotions expressed in the Psalms (and it’s okay to express them to our gracious God) and transforming them for good and to His glory. Nevertheless, Matthew 5:43-48 says to “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” So, yes, pray for those you think oppose you.

Ed Stetzer says it well (I strongly urge you to read the entire article) – ” Right or left, if your immediate reaction is to overlook accusations against politicians you support or to revel in accusations against those you oppose, you need to consider how political tribalism is shaping your worldview.”

While I understand the desire for a fair and impartial hearing as well as the political biases feeding into the anger on both sides, Christians (and people in general for that matter) need to be extremely careful not to appear callous or dismissive towards allegations of sexual assault lest they appear to be an unsafe or uncaring person for people to turn to in times of need.

I wonder, though, would the same people who think Ms. Blasey is lying believe me now when I speak about something that happened to me 30 plus years ago? Would the fact that I can’t remember my precise age or the name of the individual even though I once could remember their name and it would be relatively easy to find out because I recall enough detail about the person to clearly identify them? I now know their name, but only after speaking with my mother. But, can I prove what happened? Absolutely not. There were no corroborating witnesses to the main incident. There might be a couple of other witnesses to some of the peripheral events, and, although I have a very good memory, I have no idea if any of these events would have stuck out in their minds or memories. Memory can make for a very unreliable witness (check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast on memory). Case in point, I thought I was a bit younger until my mother helped provide a timeline, but that still doesn’t change the main story, just the peripheral details, the type of details a self-righteous mob would pick apart in an attempt to discover “truth” and cross-examine my character.

I think to myself, maybe I should have reported this incident years ago, not because of what almost happened to me as a child, but on the chance it could have continued with others and that disturbs me. It might not. Sadly, many individuals that struggle with issues of abuse at a young age have themselves been abused. Hopefully, this person is an upstanding individual today whose life is a reflection of the miraculous working of God’s grace. The truth is I don’t know.

What happened to me is real. I swear to the truth of it. But, I can’t prove it and I told no one.

Do you believe me?

A Country Childhood

Dusk was the perfect time to spring my trap given the murky, dying light filtering through the woodline behind the house. Hidden high on my perch in a persimmon tree, I spotted my victim walking around the corner of the house. When he neared my location above the sidewalk wrapping around the house, I loosened my grip on the fishing line held in my hands and slowly dropped my large rubber tarantula – the fishing line having the appearance of a silky spider strand. I precisely timed the drop to where the spider dangled right in front of my cousin’s face as soon as he reached the location underneath my ambush spot. He let out a horrendously frightening scream, picked up a stick, and beat the Hollywood-esque spider into submission while I nearly fell out of the tree from laughter. Not to be outdone, Larry joined me in the tree and we repeated the same prank on one of my sisters. She was not amused. She grabbed the spider and irritatedly hurled it in our direction as Larry and I riotously cackled high above her.

I love trees. Not all, but much of my childhood revolved around trees.

They are an imagination filled tableau for tree-houses, pirate ships, tire swings, competitions of skill and daring, and perilous jungle vine swinging.

My favorite trees to climb as a child were the maple tree in the east facing backyard of my grandparents’ home and the persimmon tree standing in a fenced-in area near the southern side of the house outside the kitchen. I lived at my grandparents’ house on twenty acres of land out in the country with my mother and two younger sisters. The home was nestled in a three-acre clearing surrounded by woodlines and fields with a large garden, myriad varieties of flowers, and substantial numbers of cherry, apple, pecan, peach, nectarine, plum, and pear trees planted by grandmother and her mother spaced throughout the three acres and we had a pool we basically lived in during the hot summer months. My uncle and aunt built a house next door a few years after I moved in with my grandparents, so my two eldest cousins started venturing about the property and surrounding areas with me and my sisters.

The maple tree was a favorite of mine because it was the same age as me, planted the summer before I was born, so I fondly considered it to be my tree. It split into two large trunk-lines near its base and had many low-lying limbs which were easy to reach as a child, allowing a beginner tree climber to gradually progress to more daunting trees. The tree had an expansive canopy for a maple tree, which shaded our picnic tables in the summer and provided work for me raking up its auburn hued leaves in the fall. Twenty-five cents a bag was my grandmother’s going rate.

The persimmon tree was our crown jewel. The fenced-in area where the tree stood contained a swing set, bird feeders, an old stump, and a sandbox. Many stray dogs were rehabilitated in the playpark as they slowly acclimated to the rest of the family dogs. The cats liked the playpark because they could get away from the dogs and often joined us in the persimmon tree. We had to be careful playing in the sandbox lest we stumble upon a turd landmine because the cats frequently used it as a community litter box.

The smooth but raised and corrugated bark of the persimmon tree was ideal for gripping limbs. This made it easier to jump from the top of the swing set to a limb on the three. The trunk of the tree was extremely straight with many reachable limbs from the bottom to the top. Because of its achievable height, the tree was the site of one of the featured events of our family Olympic Games held one summer. The Olympic Games consisted of timed sprints and hurdles – over sawhorses of various heights – a two-mile run around my grandparents’ house – forty-two laps which I regrettably ran barefoot – and a who-can-climb-the-highest-on-the-persimmon-tree challenge. We handed out ribbons to the various winners in their respective categories. Not wanting to waste a good story, we reported on the Olympic Games in a short-lived family newspaper complete with editorials, a science and history column, and illustrations consisting of crudely drawn stick figures.

One young teenaged spring, an overnight windstorm detached the large, limbless trunk of a dead tree from its base in the woods near Sherwood Forest, the heroic and romantically named wooded childhood play area where the tractor path, water-carved gullies, and a steep slope converged to form the scene of many fantasy filled adventures. The trunk was lying horizontal to the slope and my eldest male cousin, Larry, and I had recently felled another dying tree in front of it with axes a couple of weeks prior so only brush and small saplings lay in front of the trunk until you get closer to the bottom of the hill. Naturally, we thought it would be a great idea to see how far the trunk would roll down the slope. We figured if we could get it started, gravity would take care of the rest.

Needing as many adventurers as possible to move the trunk, minus adults, of course, because they don’t count when it comes to daring assaults on a fallen tree, I enlisted the aid of another cousin and my two younger sisters. THREE … TWO … ONE … PUSH! THREE … TWO … ONE … PUSH! Finally, it moved. HARDER, I yelled. The massive trunk began to roll.

Success!

The enlisted aides pulled away as Larry and I gave it one final push. The tree began to steadily roll down the hill. I pulled away from trunk only to notice Larry’s shirt catch on the bark and he began to roll over the tree. Not wanting to see my cousin crushed, I grabbed Larry’s pants leg but all this did is keep him on top of the tree while it was rolling down the hill while I’m dragged behind it. All the while, Larry was making noises that sounded like a combination of yelling and getting beat on the chest with someone’s fists. Think of Tarzan’s famous jungle call, but combine this with the sound of a shrieking banshee. Larry’s shirt had rolled up and the tree bark was scratching the skin off his abdomen. Considering the alternative was possibly serious injury, the fact that we merely turned the trunk of this tree into an enormous human exfoliation machine was a fortuitous, albeit unintended and unforeseen, event.

As the tree neared the bottom of the hill I dug my feet in and Larry slid off the trunk, but I, on the other hand, hit the tree with my legs as I was stood up from the angle and speed of going down the hill just as the rolling trunk came to a dead stop. Its descent fortuitously stopped by two saplings near the bottom of the hill, I flipped over the trunk into one of these saplings, knocking the wind out of me and bruising my rib-cage. As we’re lying there in shock, trying to process everything that just happened, I exclaimed that might not have been the smartest thing we did today. Naturally, rather than decide something like this is too risky, we started planning the safety protocols we should implement the next time we were going to roll a tree down a hill.

The poison ivy blisters were worse than the scratches and bruises.

A poison ivy protocol addendum was added to the plan.

The fall I turned fifteen, my grandfather and uncle decided it was time to repair the roof of the office storage building, the building was used to house company records, specialty advertising samples for clients, various power tools, and the spare stove my grandmother used for high volume events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any birthday in the family because who wants a turkey, bacon wrapped chicken or meatloaf with a closely guarded secret sauce taking up an entire oven when you have roughly twelve other dishes you need to prepare in a four-hour time frame. For the birthday celebration meal, the birthday celebrant got to pick a special dish and their choice of dessert with the other family standards and alternate desserts filling out the rest of the menu. I always selected fried chicken livers and a blueberry cake. With the exception of my grandmother and my younger cousin, David, who often shared a birthday party with me, I think everyone else in the family did not care for fried chicken livers, so one year I picked duck.

No one liked it.

My uncle, my cousin Larry, and I were busy working on the roof of the storage building tacking down the roofing roll when I needed to grab something from the house. I can’t remember if it was a tool or if I was merely hungry and needed a snack. Spying a nearby, accessible tree limb within arms’ length of the roof, I decided I would rather not use the ladder conventionally resting against the side of the building but swing down from the roof using the limb serendipitously placed near the storage building for my own personal amusement. Using a ladder is quite pedestrian. It’s why I taught myself how to get on the roof of my grandparents’ house by climbing up the chimney and freaking my mother out by jumping from the roof of the house to get back down to the ground. Have no fear. I wasn’t in any real danger. Larry and I spent months practicing how to fall from heights after renting all the books on Ninjas from the local library.

Grabbing the branch, I swung myself down. The angle of attack and momentum of my swing pushed my body nearly horizontal to the ground. It’s at this precise moment, at the height of my swing, the limb broke. With the leaves gone, I had mistakenly grabbed onto a limb that was clearly past its prime.

Time slowed.

I clearly remember looking over at my uncle and cousin to see their faces transform from a neutral expression into one of shock and surprise. I fell straight down, face up, and back to the ground, holding the limb the entire way down. In an instant, I was down on the ground, and to my surprise, I fell flat on my back, softly, into the leaf cushioned ground. I wasn’t hurt at all and I didn’t even have the wind knocked out of me. I started to think how ridiculous everything must have looked as if I were transplanted into a comical cartoon world so I burst out laughing maniacally. My uncle and cousin, thinking I’m severely hurt and crying out in pain nearly killed themselves getting down the ladder to check on me, still laughing on the ground.

It was only later I noticed the large exposed root sticking out of the ground inches away from where my head and neck landed.

One of the advantages of growing up in the country is having plenty of space to create elaborate outdoor games with your siblings and cousins. One such game we played involved a variant of hide-and-seek where we would spread out over the property and attempt to ambush each other with imaginary stick rifles. This was safer than some of the other warlike games we played. Pelting each other with June apples or green persimmons had a tendency to leave bruises or stain clothes and tracking each other in an overgrown, grassy field with plastic knives in a game of hunter/hunted typically left us with chigger bites and ticks. We often needed a designated referee to settle in-game disputes. Shooting each other with imaginary rifles frequently resulted in ambiguous ties or claims of missed shots. Cover or height was one’s ally.

Bored from hiding in the bushes, I decided to climb a tree with a large overhanging limb I can use as a vantage point that is high enough my position will not be easily spotted. Standing on the limb, I rested my hand on the nearest branch I could reach. Just as one of my sisters and a cousin rounded into view the limb gives way and I fell forward, losing my balance quicker than I could correct. Reflexively, I reached out for anything to break my fall and, to my surprise, I found myself hanging in midair from a large wild grapevine.

Up to this point, we thought the vines weren’t capable of holding our weight for a significant period of time. Instead of feeling apprehensive from nearly tumbling from a tree, I excitedly started thinking through all the possibilities for adventure that lay in store from the vines while still feeling incredulous at the fact that I am neither injured nor scarred from a lengthy fall.

The vines opened up an entirely new world of daring escapades with the trees on our property. Instead of scouting trees to climb, my sisters, cousins, and I began scouting prime locations to cut vines from which to swing. We had grand designs and aspirations of pretending to be Tarzan or Jane swinging through the jungle, but we were never able to connect more than two vines in a row so we opted for attempting to craft epically long swings from vines on hillsides with long arcs and swing times.

One tree, in particular, a vine-laden, large hickory tree located halfway up the slope near the path in Sherwood Forest provided an ideal point from which to swing due to Sherwood’s geography. The steep hillside sloped down to a wide gully and proceeded to climb back up at a similar angle on the opposite side, which allowed us to swing over the gully and back again or drop down on the other side. It was winter, so we didn’t have to worry about snakes or patches of poison ivy. I should have used a saw to cut the base of the vine, but seeing as how I hadn’t had a chance to use my prized hunting knife for anything of note, I used that instead.

It took years to get the sap stains off my knife.

This was the winter my mother took me and my sisters to get new coats from Burlington Coat Factory during one of their seasonal sales. I picked out a nice triple-goose down all black coat that looked like it belonged on an Arctic expedition. My sisters picked out colorful coats more appropriate for wearing to church on Sunday. We all loved our new coats. In particular, I remember my sister Becca going on and on about how much she loved her new coat. She meant it too. She wore it all the time.

After a recent rain, the ground was nice and soft upon which to land after swinging to the other side of the gully. Everyone was having a grand time and lots of fun. Everyone, that is, except for Becca. She stood to the side watching us swing over the gully and wouldn’t play with us because she was wearing her beloved coat and she didn’t want to get it dirty.

Nonsense.

We finally convinced her she should take a swing after we had played on the vine for a couple of hours. I think it was more a combination of sibling and cousinly goading, daring, and double-daring that finally convinced her. Finally, she took her place at the base of the vine. She didn’t look very happy about the entire affair. Larry and I told her to lift her feet and we gave her a big push to get her started. Once she reached the other side, we yelled for her to jump, but she didn’t. As her momentum began to carry her back to the launching point, I heard the tell-tale crack of a tree limb giving way and the vine snaps.

I want to paint you a picture. Imagine a bird. A beautiful, colorful bird decked out in a pastel blue and pink coat from Burlington Coat Factory. Now imagine this bird is your sister, shrieking as she plummets to the earth like Icarus. Splat! She lands flat on her back in the middle of a muddy gully.

I don’t know that I can accurately describe what I saw and heard. My initial reaction was one of shock and caring, no one believes the latter, as to the condition of my sister. This quickly gave way to hilarity and riotous laughter at what came next. My sister rose stiffly from the mud like a mummy from a Bela Lugosi horror film alternately moaning loudly, roaring in rage, stating she’ll kill us all, and crying “my coat!”

Becca ran off to find mom.

At this point given Becca’s beloved coat might be ruined, my laughter turned to worried contemplation as to where this incident stands in the pantheon of things I’ve done to my sisters considering my brotherly penchant for causing random injurious accidents. When I was five, I ran Becca into the entry room door of our first home chasing her with a toothbrush causing her to bust through a glass pane and sending her to the hospital so the doctor could pick glass shards from her head. A few years later, my youngest sister, Christen, was sitting on the edge of a springy trundle-bed located next to a bunk bed when I jumped from the top bunk, launching her across the room into a television stand near the wall. Also sending her to the hospital.

There were other incidents; only, they didn’t involve a hospital visit.

Fall is my favorite season of the year. It’s the perfect season in the South. Not only is the temperature cooler than summer and the air less humid than spring, you also get to see all the deciduous trees exchange their dull green summer coat of leaves for captivating shades and hues of red, yellow, and orange that play off the deep sunsets of the Mississippi Delta.

In Tennessee, it can get windy in the fall without the accompanying storm front you normally see in spring and summer. The weather is great for kite flying. Our favorite kites were the triangular delta style kites that were highly maneuverable. We lost most of these kites in the nearby woods from snapped or cut strings once we started kite fighting after reading about the sport in a book.

One year, my grandparents bought all the grandkids kits with which to make homemade kites. The diamond-shaped type with a tail you see in old magazines and movies. The kite took a lot of wind to start flying, but once it hit the air above the property tree line in the sod farm next to my family’s land it would stay aloft as long as you liked.

My cousin Larry and I decided one day we wanted to see how high we could fly the four-foot kite we built so we went about the property collecting all the heavy-duty cotton string we could find. All told, I think we managed to gather about one thousand feet of string, most of it supplied from the ample spool of string my grandmother used in her garden to tie her fruit and vegetable plants to wooden stakes. We had good sustained winds in the field and managed to unspool most of the string into the air. Ultralights would often fly low over the field since it was near the interstate, which pilots used as a visual landmark, and, after seeing a couple fly nearby, we became nervous that one of the ultralights would accidentally catch the kite or kite string. To make matters worse, the evening was approaching and dark clouds began to roll into view carried along by higher winds.

Hastily making a conditional pact to save our grandmother’s garden string instead of cutting the kite loose, the one condition being we would cut the string the moment we heard thunder or saw lightning, we alternated positions back and forth. One of us would spool the string on a thick wooden dowel rod as the other pulled the string back to the ground with leather gloves since the string was biting our hands and we had the preposterous hope the gloves would protect us in the event of a lightning strike. It took us close to an hour to pull the kite back to the ground; all the time leaning back at a forty-five-degree angle to keep from being pulled over by the force of the kite.

I still don’t know how the string didn’t snap.

The same weather and winds that make for great kite flying also make ideal conditions for sailing pirate ships in the trees. My sisters, cousins, and I conceived the idea for the pirate ship after attempting to turn our Radio Flyer wagon into a land schooner of sorts using one of the spare sheets my grandmother kept in the hall closet as a makeshift sail. We erected a wooden mast with a spar from a couple of repurposed fallen tree limbs tied together with twine and held upright by one of the two wagon riders. Two of the sheet corners were securely tied to opposite ends of the crossbeam with twine using a couple of knots I learned from my grandfather’s scoutmaster book he kept in his library, the same library that was my bedroom until I left my grandparents’ home many years later

The job of the wagon rider not holding the mast was to hold the lower two corners of the sail and the two lengths of twine we ran from the ends of the crossbeam as a means of changing the position of the crossbeam to optimally catch varying wind directions. The mast holder had to steer the wagon with one hand while keeping the mast from falling over. A nearly impossible task given the lack of muscle development in our adolescent bodies.

It was a disaster.

An optimist would consider the fact the wagon moved at all a success but we were not pleased with only moving one to two miles per hour on the flat concrete walkway circling our grandparents’ house and the mast kept falling down. We had two Radio Flyers and our dreams of racing each other down the walkway while sword fighting with sticks or cardboard tubes were dashed by the ridiculously slow speeds we achieved. We settled for pushing our land schooners down the hill behind the deep end of my grandparent’s in-ground swimming pool until we nearly impaled one another with the masts after inevitably crashing.

What were we to do with all the spare sheets in my grandmother’s hall closet?

Earlier in the year, we spotted a tree in between the sod farm field and our driveway that had a unique feature. It had three limbs placed about six or seven feet apart running horizontally to the ground and each other that were large enough we could climb and hold our combined weight. The main trunk of the tree gently sloped to one side making it relatively easy to scamper up the trunk to reach the first limb. Feeling confident in our mast rigging abilities, we constructed a series of sails involving copious amounts of twine and four bedsheets we hoped my grandmother would not miss for a considerable length of time. The entire tree swayed when the fall breezes filled the sails and we excitedly began delegating various ship roles and duties. Much to the chagrin of my sisters, I assumed the role of captain as befitting my birthright as firstborn child and grandchild.

And, thus, our pirate ship was born.

Outside of the massive oak tree located in the southeastern corner of the property, which was old and prominent enough to be listed on all of the historical survey maps of the property, the grandest tree on the property sat right across the driveway. It was, apropos, called “The Big Oak”. Hanging from this tree was the tire swing.

The tire swing hung from a double looped nylon rope securely fastened with a multitude of knots to a large secondary limb branching out from the enormous initial limb on the trunk of the oak tree about fifteen feet off the ground. This limb could only be reached by ladder but it was wide enough you could walk on it once you climbed on top. The only other method we successfully utilized to get up to the limb was a DIY crate elevator using a lengthy manila rope cut at the historic S. Y. Wilson & Co. store in the local town square and a couple of block and tackle pulleys Larry and I received for Christmas one year – our request.

I loved that store. It was built in 1893 and was three stories tall with old creaky wooden stairs and balconies and spacious tin ceiling tiles. My grandfather would take me to the store when he needed the odd tool, bolt, nail, or screw and always bought me a grape or orange soda from the vending machine sitting on the loading dock. I drank the soda while he talked with the owners. It seems like he was friends with everyone in town. Hardware, tools, and farm equipment eventually gave way to antiques and now the building is home to an outdoors and western apparel and gear store.

We were forced to decommission the crate elevator after we dropped one of my sisters.

The pulleys weren’t the oddest Christmas gift we ever requested or received. That honor goes to the three and a half foot tall lifelike doll we requested as a joint gift for the purpose of conducting stunts. These stunts included, but were not limited to, making a homemade parachute and throwing the unpaid and uninsured stunt doll off the roof of the house or launching it with a makeshift catapult constructed from springy tree branches. Near the end of its useful lifespan, the doll’s main function was to serve as a crash test dummy.

One of the games my siblings, cousins, and I often played on the tire swing was to take the tire and turn it so the rope would slowly twist and wind up like a spring. Once we let go, the tire morphed into a quickly spinning g-force simulator. We earned bonus points if we successfully kept ourselves from being thrown off, which was more challenging when two of us clung to the outside of the tire. We also loved playing a bucking bull or bronco game where two people sat on either side of the rope on top of the tire and tried to cause the other person to fall off by bouncing the tire or forcefully throwing it side to side.

Providentially, the only injuries we sustained involved bruises or the rare sprained wrist or ankle.

The tire on the swing was an old truck tire. Later on, we discovered a stash of old truck tires near the dilapidated tractor wagon my grandfather used for hay bale rides pulled by his old Massey Ferguson diesel tractor – a tractor I later learned how to operate so I could help mow the grass with the “bush hog”. Mowing the field on top of Bluebird Hill overrun with kudzu, tall weeds and grass, wild blackberry bushes – we saved these – and thistle in the middle of summer was a four-hour exercise in allergy management and snake avoidance. Bluebird Hill was special to us because it was the site our archeology dig, which was an old 19th-century rubbish pile for a long destroyed farmhouse yielding amber-colored glass medicine bottles and other long-forgotten kitchen items.

Upon discovering the stash of truck tires, we started thinking of constructive things to do with the tires such as rolling them down hills until they crashed. The person whose tire rolled the furthest was the winner. This sufficed for some time until boredom set in and required us to look for something new to do with the tires. Being young, smallish, and relatively flexible at this age of our lives we figured out we could sit inside the tire while someone rolled it along a flat area of the yard.

Not content with merely rolling along the yard, I decided we should up the ante and roll down a hill. We moved over to the hill behind the swimming pool, which had a gentler slope than Sherwood Forest knowing we’d risk serious injury if we attempted the hill at Sherwood. The hill behind the swimming pool was not without its dangers though. It eventually ended at the woodline after flattening out slightly and a pecan tree stood near the slope.

We were unable to come up with a plausible way to stop the tires from rolling into the woods without someone outside a tire physically slowing it down. The plan was to have someone run behind the tire then grab it wearing work gloves while the person riding inside the tire did their best to slow their speed by kicking their feet against ground each rotation.

We were idiots.

I, being the fastest, was going to be the first runner. Larry bravely volunteered to ride inside the tire. We ran a couple of tests runs where the slope wasn’t as steep as the top of the hill to see how difficult it would be to grab the tire and slow it down. Satisfied our plan could work, we moved to the top of the hill on the concrete pad next to the diving board and Larry pushed off.

I never caught up to the tire.

To clarify, I never caught up to it while it was rolling. Larry bounded down the hill with such speed I never had a chance grab the tire. The next thing I remember seeing was Larry’s frantic attempt to stop the tire, which merely put it off-balance. The tire flipped on its side and catapulted both it and Larry past the shrubs at the edge of the woods and out of sight.

He survived, so we modified our plan to have the runner act as a continuous brake while the tire was rolling and I brought out the huge tractor tire inner tube we typically used to create monster waves in the pool until my grandmother would come out and get onto us for dropping the water level of the pool.

I nearly broke my neck, one summer, trying to swan dive through the middle of the inner tube off the diving board. After many successful dives, I hit the sidewall of the tube, nearly passed out underwater from the impact, and bruised my sternum with my chin. It also seemed to attract horseflies so I already had a history with this rubber nemesis of mine prior to rolling myself down the swimming pool hill firmly ensconced in a cocoon of recklessness.

We decided we wanted to race two tires to the bottom of the hill. Larry would roll down in the truck tire and I would take the inner tube. The inner tube was larger and would start slow, but it would roll faster, in theory, towards the bottom of the hill.

Nobody won.

I rolled straight into the pecan tree, careened off of it, and crashed into Larry.

I have always been somewhat in awe at the capabilities of my mother; be they raising three kids as a single mom or being a skilled musician or an expert on birds or a carpenter or an architect or someone who can work on her own car and drive a tractor.

One early fall day, Mom came home with a load of lumber comprised of 2x4s and 2x6s in the bed of her pickup truck, a dark red, extended cab, full-length bed ‘88 F-150 with a straight-six engine block and manual transmission. The truck was a replacement for the small Renault hatchback import that Mom claimed could get between thirty-five to forty miles-per-gallon, which itself was a replacement for her bronze colored big block Delta 88 muscle car with a 440 cubic-inch engine. Mom had to sell the 88 shortly after my dad left once the transmission started dying because we needed the money at the time and only being able to drive in second gear was highly problematic. My teenage-self wished I had a chance to rebuild the car, install wide wheels with whitewall tires, and paint it solid black with a racing stripe, but my adult self might not be alive today had I done so.

I had no idea what the lumber was for until Mom boldly proclaimed we were going to build a treehouse. Instantly, my mind was flooded with grandiose ideas and imaginative future plans for the structure.

The tree we selected was a large oak near the western end of the office building from which my grandfather and uncle ran their business not too far away from the stately magnolia tree expansive enough to hide from view all the grandkids clinging to its limbs and the future wood burning pile where I accidentally lit my sweatshirt on fire a couple of years later while Larry and I were jumping through the flames of said burn pile holding a flattened cardboard box in front to push the flames around us.

I never told Mom about that.

I didn’t want to die at her hands.

This particular oak tree was uniquely well suited for treehouse construction. About eight to ten feet up the tree, multiple large limbs protruded from the central trunk in a relatively horizontal fashion; offering a stable platform from which to construct the floor of the treehouse.

The treehouse itself was not to be fully enclosed. This would take way too much time and lumber. Rather, over a period of three days, it took the form of a crow’s nest or observation deck, with railings for walls. We installed a series of wood planks on the trunk to form a ladder of sorts. It was closer to a rock climbing than a typical ladder, but it was effective.

The treehouse fast became the location of competing of all-boy or all-girl clubhouses, medieval castles, wildlife observation decks, outdoor hide-and-go-seek hideouts, tag-you’re-it bases, and several blanket and sleeping bag all-nighters.

Over time, as all established things tend to do, the treehouse slowly fell apart, its pace of decay quickened by the continual growth of the oak tree pushing against and surrounding its wood planks until we forced to dismantle the treehouse and repurpose its wood many years later.

So, too, have life and the forces of time spread my childhood family out only to be repurposed into a different form with new generations of children fashioning their own unique stories and memories.

While I have many fond memories involving the woods, trees, and other outdoor locations on my grandparent’s property, I cherish these memories because they depict something much deeper and more meaningful than a good story or laugh.

They represent familial bonds, friendships, and a shared story.

My story.

END

Southern Idols

On May 16th, 1905, in the midst of a wave of Civil War nostalgia and Lost Cause militaristic romanticism gripping the South around the turn of the 20th century and racial tensions culminating in Jim Crow and segregationist laws meant to prop up white supremacist ideologies and the prevailing Southern social order, a monument to Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (CSA) astride his mount, King Philip, was dedicated in Memphis, TN in front of an estimated crowd of 30,000.

The dedication ceremony took place in a city marred by the yellow fever epidemics of the 1870s. According to Court Carney, in his Journal of Southern History essay, “The Contested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest” (August 2001), the epidemic worsened racial tensions in the city because the elite white population lost to the fever were replaced by rural whites who were “less racially tolerant than their urban contemporaries”.

Court continues:

Racial antagonism continued to increase in the first decade of the twentieth century. The Memphis Commercial Appeal published a daily cartoon entitled “Hambone’s Meditations” that featured a crude caricature of an African American who spoke in coarse dialect. Created to entertain white Memphians with the “foibles” of black people, the cartoon reflected the everyday racial slurs that African Americans experienced. Racism was rampant in the nation in general, and in 1905 Thomas Dixon published his bestselling paean to the Ku Klux Klan, The Clansmen. During a period that featured some of the worst racial atrocities in American history, the Klan became a potent symbol of white supremacy–and in the midst of this resurgence of racism, Memphis chose to unveil its bronze equestrian memorial to Forrest. Had Memphis constructed such a memorial in the 1880s, it likely would have reflected the postwar themes in evidence at his funeral–a naturally gifted general of strong religious faith who had overcome childhood poverty to become a wealthy businessman–although the divided attitudes of white Memphians at the time might have tempered the tenor of tributes to the general’s memory. Instead, by 1905, the year of the Forrest statue’s dedication, increasing racial brutality–as well as the new racial and class composition of the city–had helped to unite white Memphians and in turn transform the city’s image of Forrest.

As race relations worsened in Memphis, Forrest’s name became increasingly connected with the Ku Klux Klan for the first time since the early 1870s. Some of the earliest public references to Forrest’s role as Grand Wizard occurred in 1901, when Memphis hosted the annual United Confederate Veterans Reunion. The Memphis Commercial Appeal, for example, mentioned his role as “Grand Cyclops” of the Klan, a connection not alluded to in the public remembrances of the 1870s. Forrest’s image as leader of the Ku Klux Klan became more explicit in the weeks before the 1905 unveiling. An editorial in the Memphis News-Scimitar was accompanied by a cartoon entitled “Forrest Again in the White Shroud,” which portrayed the Forrest statue still under the protective cloth that draped the monument. The cartoonist saw in the shrouded statue the glorious memories of the Klan, and behind Forrest he drew ten ghostly Klansmen raiding the Memphis park. The accompanying article proclaimed that “Forrest has come to his own again.” The Klan, the article explained, was organized “for the protection of the honor and independence of Southern social condition.” “It may be only a mirage of a war-loving brain that people the park again with spectral men in ghostly garb,” the writer admitted, but white Memphians were comforted with the image of Forrest as “that leader whose iron hand held the reins of safety over the South when Northern dominion apotheosized the negro and set misrule and devastation to humiliate a proud race. (pp. 610-11)

The Memphis Commercial Appeal recorded the following opening remarks in the Forrest monument dedication speech by Gen. George W. Gordon:

Ladies, Comrades and Countrymen:

We have not assembled here today to glorify war, that deplorable institution of violence, blood and death. Sed canimus arma virumque.
No. We are not here to exalt the direful art and sanguinary science of human carnage, but to salute and accentuate the name, and to commemorate in language, in bronze and in marble, the masterful prowess and martial genius of Tennessee’s, if not America’s, greatest, most original and dazzling soldier. Yes, we meet to dedicate this enduring monument to the honor and glory of an illustrious patriot and “mighty man of valor” — Lieutenant- General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who for four stirring and thrilling years did brilliant battle for Southern freedom and independence, in what he esteemed and we still regard as an un-avoidable and defensive war.

We are also here to attest in verbal, visible and permanent form the eminent esteem and increasing appreciation in which the noble and heroic services of this anomalous man in the greatest crisis of his country’s history, are held by his countrymen, nearly half a century after the passing of the dramatic epoch in which he lived, thought and acted. And although we may appear to be late in making this acknowledgment, we now declare this durable testimonial, so imposing, so impressive and so expressive of the character and career of the man, to be the permanent proclamation of our veneration for his memory, our gratitude for his services and sacrifices, and our admiration for his valor and genius.

The Forrest monument and its accompanying dedication ceremony reflect the prevailing thoughts and attitudes of Southern culture in Memphis at the time of the monument’s unveiling. Works of art, particularly monuments, are cultural snapshots in time. The creators of monuments design their works of art to elicit specific thoughts, emotions, and memories for the purpose of venerating particular people, ideas, or ideals. The purpose and meaning of the Forrest monument cannot be divorced from the social context of its creation even as cultural attitudes shift around it.

The Forrest monument is a romanticized ode to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, the Wizard of the Saddle, and the prevailing Southern social order of the time.

On December 20th, 2017 at 9:01 PM, the monument was removed to much local fanfare and acclaim, but, also, significant criticism and opposition, particularly from members of the white community.

The tone, tenor, and content of the objections to the monument’s removal are important because they represent viewpoints still held by a large number, if not a majority, of white Southerners. I take their objections seriously, so I want to respond in kind.

Claim: The Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery (i.e. Confederate monuments shouldn’t be racialized).
Response: No. This belief is verifiably false.

The cause of the Civil War was the institution of slavery. However, you don’t have to take my word for it, you can take the words of the Confederacy itself.

Excerpts from The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States:

Georgia

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.

Mississippi

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.

South Carolina

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

Texas

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

Virginia

The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.

Excerpt from the 1861 Cornerstone Speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just-but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

Unequivocally, the Civil War was fought over the institution of slavery. As such, monuments to the Confederate Lost Cause are monuments to the institution of slavery.

Claim: Removing Confederate monuments erases history.
Response: Mostly false.

I think this objection is based on many people meaning to say the removal of Confederate monuments erases “our” history. Removing a monument only erases its history in the place where it stood, not necessarily the history of its subject matter. Additionally, the vast majority of monument removal plans are to move, not destroy, Confederate monuments so they are installed in places that better reflect their context such as museums or Civil War battlefields, etc. The United States is not burning books about the Civil War, destroying private works of art, nor declaring all references to the Confederacy to be prohibited.

Claim: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Response: Unproven.

Regarding this particular subject, this is a dubious claim bound in a catchy aphorism. If slavery returns to the U.S. or its states, once again, attempt to secede from the Union, it will not be because people forgot the lessons of the Civil War.

Claim: After they take our statues, they’ll take our crosses. Where does it end?
Response: Slippery slope fallacy.

The claim is a direct quote from a remark made during the October 2017 Tennessee Historical Commission meeting. Aside from the conflation of modern American Christianity with the Confederacy, but understandable due to historical support for slavery by various American Christian denominations, crosses are and were already under fire in the public square for reasons having nothing to do with the removal of Confederate monuments.

It is possible for society to go too far with the rejection of certain symbols and no person from history is perfect, but we are specifically talking about the Confederacy. It stops there. That’s the answer. Fighting the removal of monuments to the Confederacy is not a hill worth dying on, especially given the Confederacy’s existential association with institutional slavery.

Final Thoughts

It is exceedingly rare to celebrate the losers of a war unless the ideals and beliefs of the losing side are being celebrated, but is the Confederacy worth celebrating? Monuments venerate particular subjects. Why should the Confederacy be honored? What exactly are we honoring when we venerate the Confederacy? I find it particularly interesting the proposed removal of Confederate monuments strikes such a nerve in Southern culture. The question we should be asking is why.

Moreover, it is in the legitimate interest of local municipalities to choose whom and what they venerate and commemorate in their public spaces. As society and culture change, so do the things we celebrate. While it is good and proper to remember and study history, we do not want to celebrate and venerate the parts of history that have no place in our future.

Symbols of the Lost Cause

Recent events in New Orleans surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments and the resulting outcry has prompted me to write an opinion piece that is long overdue.

For context, select the link below to read a transcript of New Orleans Mayor Landrieu’s speech after the removal of the monument to Robert E. Lee, the fourth and final Confederate monument to be removed.

Landrieu’s Speech Transcript

Studying the Civil War was my first love when it comes to American and military history to the extent that I received a special exemption from my alma mater, Rhodes College, to take an adult Meeman Center course on the Civil War at the age of nine. One of my favorite military leaders to study is Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Regrettably, as a native Southerner, I must confess I fell into the subtle emotional and intellectual trap that comprises the “Lost Cause” mythology of the American South and held on to this mythology for some time, well into my mid-20s, which whitewashes the evils of American slavery and the historical ills of the Confederacy.

Southerners like to refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. While it is true the northern states were no paragon of virtue when it came to slavery or race relations in the U.S., before or after the Civil War, and aggressively maneuvered to put the southern states into an untenable political position, leading to their secession, and committed wartime atrocities, this does not absolve the South of its role with regard to slavery in the U.S. nor do these circumstances make its cause particularly virtuous, irrespective of the states rights argument, which I find particularly compelling.

States rights, the limited role of the federal government, and the right of states to choose their political association (ideas dearly held by many of our Founding Fathers which I believe were severely damaged by the Civil War) were all motivated and necessitated in the South by the need to legitimize and maintain an economic and political system constructed around chattel slavery and the subjugation of ethnically black people, which can neither be ignored nor excused. It is also technically true the Civil War began due to the economic conflict between the North and South. However, claiming the Civil War began due to northern economic and political aggression reframes the war to provide victim status to the South while bypassing the fact that slavery was the cornerstone of the economic and political system of the South. The victim status of the South is one of the pillars of “Lost Cause” mythology.

The Civil War cost the lives of approximately 620,000 soldiers from both sides of the conflict and is estimated to have cost roughly $3.4 Billion in property destruction and the loss of human capital with another $3.3 Billion dollars from government expenditures in 1860 dollars according to research performed by Claudia Goldin and Frank Lewis. I’ve long pondered whether it would have been better to have ended slavery peacefully in the U.S., similarly to how slavery was ended in the northern states of the U.S. However, these numbers must be contrasted with the number of individuals who died while in slavery and the 4 million people freed from slavery at the end of the Civil War. Moreover, any peaceful end to slavery would require the willing cooperation of southern political leaders and the white voting population and a complete cultural change, possibly taking decades to achieve. I am aware that cotton field exhaustion leading to a drop in crop yields and the adoption of agricultural mechanization would likely play a significant role in potentially speeding up the end of slavery. However, it must be acknowledged that any delay to the end of slavery means telling, not asking, the millions of slaves suffering from the brutal and demeaning terror and horror of slavery to wait.

Martin Luther King, in his Birmingham jail response to an editorial published by a group of clergymen in the local newspaper, addressed this issue of waiting for injustice to end from the perspective of the oppressed.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “n****r,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

I say all of this to plainly point out that the symbols of the Confederacy that honor, reverence, and cherish the idea and ideals of the Confederacy are not merely aspects of a historical education, especially outside the appropriate confines of a historical battlefield park, but are political and cultural symbols of oppression and injustice that extend far beyond the time of the Civil War. Jim Crow. Segregation. Lynchings. Must I continue?

I love to study history and Shiloh is one of my favorite military parks to visit, but I no longer go there to mourn the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy. I go there to witness and reflect on the nature of war, give respect to those who died, and explain to my daughter the significance and importance of the Civil War in our nation’s history; understanding that a tenuously connected group of states who commanded greater allegiance from its citizens than the United States of America emerged from the war to become one nation, bound together in blood and sacrifice.

An American Conversation on Abortion

We are on the eve of the U.S. presidential election and I would like to address the elephant in the room and talk about the completely non-controversial topic of abortion policy. It is one of the largest and most divisive political wedge issues that comes to mind and is one reason it is difficult to form a moderate American political party consisting of centrists who lean a little left or right of center. It is also the reason why many conservative Christians have decided to vote for Donald Trump.

To my friends and other readers holding their noses and reluctantly pulling the lever for the least qualified and most ill-equipped major presidential candidate in modern history only because he is not Hillary Clinton in the hope he will nominate conservative Supreme Court justices, I need to point out some unpleasant facts that weaken the political impetus to cast a vote for a man who clearly does not share your values. You don’t need to taint your antipathetic vote by taking up a political cross that is illusory in effect.

To those that actively support and cheer for Donald Trump because you honestly think he is good for this country and would make a great president, you are entitled to do so freely, but I would like you provide sound evidence to me as to why you believe this to be true. I say the following with complete candor – I have yet to find anyone who has made a compelling case.

I enjoy talking about politics and I don’t shy away from controversial topics so please consider the following points/critiques and questions (from a conservative perspective) as an invitation for dialogue or debate. If you believe me to be wrong, seek clarification, or agree with me, please don’t hesitate to engage me in a conversation on the topic.

To anyone interested in further reading on this topic, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America by Marvin Olasky.

1. Reversing Roe v. Wade has a limited effect on reducing abortion. Legal jurisdiction over the issue is merely given back to the states. Elective abortion will be available in many states. Women who can afford to travel will do so and the poor will seek abortions through other means. The practice of abortion prior to the 1960s, while not widely accepted in American society and culture, was also not rare and unpracticed.

2. A pro-life position should encompass more than an anti-abortion stance.

3. Many conservatives often seek to make abortion illegal without addressing the underlying social and cultural factors that drive abortion which are, but not limited to, the stigmatization of unwed mother, the lack of social and financial support for poor families and single parents, and the fears and difficulties faced by women, particularly, teens and young women as to the negative effect bearing and raising a child will have on their educational and career prospects.

4. White political conservatives struggle to gain potential like-minded allies in ethnic minority groups. For example, black Christians tend to be culturally or socially conservative on the issue of abortion due to their faith, but large numbers do not vote in concert with white political conservatives because of historical repercussions from white conservative resistance to the Civil Rights Movement (e.g. Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley) and conservative support for “law and order” candidates with regressive views on policing and justice/prison reform. In my opinion, a vote for Trump is a continuation of support for politicians who represent viewpoints offensive to ethnic minority groups.

5. If one is to state they care for women and their well-being, voting for an openly misogynistic, abusive, and sexually predatory political candidate in the form of Donald Trump does not help to support this statement.

Questions:

1. Are all abortions to be made illegal without any caveats such as rape, incest, or the life of the mother? Should the health of the mother be considered? Is health defined as physical, mental, or both? Should the mother (or father) be allowed to have a say?

2. If abortion is outlawed, should one seek to punish the providers or punish the mothers?

3. Is the preferred policy approach to contain and reduce abortions by focusing on changing the minds and situations of women seeking abortion, focus on legal restrictions or bans, or a some combination of the two approaches?

I welcome your input.

Childhood Tales: Boxes

A box is a magical thing to a child. It is one of the few objects in this universe than can instantaneously morph into a rocket ship bound for the red skies of Mars and its arid, windswept plains or a towering cliff-side castle that calls itself home to a brave king or queen and their entourage of gallant lords and clever ladies.

My favorite boxes as a child were the large, enormous boxes that only come at great expense to the adults in the family since the former occupant of these boxes were typically filled with much more boring things such appliances or water heaters.

Boxes were to be treated with care. You never knew when another would arrive nor when the inevitable bends and folds in the walls of the cardboard would turn into rips and tears and a loss of structural integrity from overuse and exuberant play.

I fondly remember making a cardboard frigate complete with wooden masts and paper sails appropriated from random household supplies. I couldn’t wait to launch my prized warship upon the glistening waves of the small pond on the family property. However, being the type of young man I was, I promptly lit my boxy frigate on fire with lighter fluid and blew it to charred smithereens with a blast of bird-shot from a Remington 870 12-gauge because my ship was destined for imagined battle and devastation from the very moment of its creation.

If you were to hear the story as told by my younger siblings and cousins, I once tried to kill them all with a box.

It was the height of summer. August, I think. And it was sweltering. These were the days we would spend all day in the pool and plaster ourselves in clay from a hastily made mud-pit near the garden to be hosed down prior to re-entry into the house lest we incur the wrath of my grandmother. The heating element in the old metal water heater in the attic wore out and was forced from service and the new plastic 50 gallon tank that came to replace it was packaged in the most gloriously large box I ever saw.

I had the bright idea that we should turn the box into a vertical kiddie pool, sort of the like the water-filled escape boxes into which you see magicians drop chained beautiful young ladies. To shore the box up, because cardboard and water do not mix well, I had my siblings and cousins first get into the box while it was lying on its side and I stood it up and wrapped the entire exterior in duct tape. I grabbed the hose lying in the yard, threw it over the side of box – a converted death trap according to my sisters – and turned the spigot on full blast. The next thing I heard were the pained shouts and unintelligible screams from everyone in the box to turn off the water mixed with overt threats to do me bodily harm. Before I could get to the spigot, I saw my eldest cousin hoisting himself out of the top of the box. No small feat considering the top of this now sinister contraption was a couple of feet taller than him. As I was running to grab the hose, I saw my sisters’ hands and arms tear through the side of the box similar to the scene in Night of the Living Dead where the undead are attempting to break down the doors and windows of the old house to eat the brains of the occupants and everyone comes crashing out of the box soaking wet. Only, this time, I’m fairly certain my sisters were probably going to bash in my brain should they reach me.

I’m not sure which was worse – the fact I packed four small people into a tall box assuming they could tread water indefinitely, or, the fact I forgot the hose was left out in the blazing sun all day and the moment I turned the spigot on I sent a stream of scalding hot water onto the legs and feet of everyone in the box as I began to boil them alive until they destroyed the walls of their now defunct torture chamber.

Boxes were fun. Still are.