by Phil Leigh
(March 25, 2022) In this morning’s Richmond Times podcast, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Michael Paul Williams asserts that the reason there were no Confederate monuments in the city until the 1890s and afterward was because whites wanted them to symbolize the return of white supremacy after the end of Reconstruction. He implies that if the statues were intended to honor the fallen soldiers they would have been erected when the war ended in 1865. He further opines that the statues erected as late as the mid-1920s were chiefly intended to reinforce the symbolism of white supremacy while black voices were progressively silenced. He is wrong for two reasons.
First, penniless Southerners were unable to pay for monuments for many years after the war ended. They instead had to content themselves with laying flowers of the graves of the fallen, which sometimes also included Northern soldiers who died while in the South. According to professors William Cooper and Thomas Terrill in their textbook, The American South, as late as 1900 the per capita income percentile ranking in the South was half that of the national average. Even in 1930 it was only 55% of the national average.
Moreover, unlike the anti-Confederate statues going up in the South now such as Richmond’s Rumors of War, there were few wealthy foundations willing to make donations for nineteenth and early twentieth century Confederate statues. They were typically paid for by donations from thousands-upon-thousands of ordinary citizens, including some blacks.
Second, few people today recognize the magnitude of the losses suffered by white Southern families during the war. At least five percent of the white population, from which the Confederacy drew her soldiers, were killed. If America were to fight a war today and suffer proportional losses our dead would total 17 million. That’s nearly three times the number of Jews killed during the Nazi Holocaust and forty times the number American soldiers killed in World War II. Given such an oblation, only a cynic could conclude that the surviving Southern family members were not chiefly motivated to build statues out of a desire to memorialize the loved and lost, particularly considering that many never returned from far away battlefields.
In point of fact, there’s good reason to believe that Michael Paul Williams is just such a cynic. The photo above is of Richmond’s fortieth annual Emancipation Day Parade in April 1905. As you can see, blacks were free to march joyfully through the city at least fifteen years after the Robert E. Lee monument was erected on Monument Avenue. If the statues were intended to intimidate blacks and remind them that they were under the thumb of white supremacy, the parade would not have been allowed.
Now consider the situation if the Sons of Confederate Veterans were to march in Richmond today to honor their ancestors. Nobody can doubt that they would never get a permit and that the regime media would attack them viciously for even trying. If they were somehow to march, no doubt they would get protested and perhaps even assaulted as a consequence of the hatred stirred up by the regime media.
Mr. Williams provides other observations suggesting that he is an entitled race hustler.
First, he argues that America is currently experiencing an unjustified backlash to the statue removals. To paraphrase, he says, After Reconstruction came the backlash of the 1890s. Now, after Obama’s presidency comes another backlash. Such a remark ignores the fact that Obama could not have been elected and re-elected President without white votes. Blacks represent only 13% of America’s population. If, however, there is a backlash it is because of the intolerance of power elites like Michael Paul Williams.
Second, when Williams started working for the Richmond-Times forty years ago he was hired by whites. Ten years later his white bosses gave him the opportunity to become a columnist because he argued that blacks were not sufficiently represented in the newspaper. Even though he boasts that some of his anti-tradition views triggered controversy in the community, his white employers apparently backed him, because he was never fired.
Now that he is no longer “speaking truth to power”—because he is a part of the present power elite—he wants to censor views contrary to his. He doesn’t want Confederate statues anywhere in the country, except possibly in museums where they can be ridiculed with so-called textualization plaques. He visualizes Richmond as the center of a movement to have the statues razed everywhere.
The Richmond-Times and Michael Paul Williams are two good reasons to tell your representatives in Washington to vote against the federal subsidies that the Biden Administration is trying to give to newspapers. Tell them to kill the “Save Local News Act.” It gives your federal tax dollars to legacy newspapers and gives them certain antitrust exemptions to make Big Tech promote their views instead of yours.
The book below will help you understand the racial delusions of people like Williams and how to debunk them.
Phil Leigh publishes the Civil War Chat blog. His most recent book is, “The Dreadful Frauds: Critical Race Theory and Identity Politics.”