This Is Excellent News for Bobby Lee

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Here's a heartening piece showing how much the South has changed since the 100th anniversary of the Civil War:


Now, in honor of the Civil War's 150th anniversary, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) are seeking to put Forrest on a Mississippi license plate. But the state government opposes it. When asked to comment on the proposal, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, told the Associated Press, "It won't become law because I won't sign it." 

Barbour's reaction is just one sign that things have changed since the South commemorated the Civil War's centennial in 1961. Back then, much of the South was still segregated -- and many people, including Mississippi's then Governor Ross Barnett, were fighting to keep it that way. State and local governments took an active role in Confederate celebrations, using them to promote their causes. When the U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission, a group sponsored by the federal government, held its inaugural event in a Charleston, S.C., hotel, Madaline Williams, a delegate from the New Jersey legislature, was denied entry because she was black. 

For this year's anniversary, there is no such commission. And in February of this year, when a Jefferson Davis impersonator was sworn in on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol for a re-enactment of the Confederate States of America's 1861 presidential inauguration, Alabama officials stayed away. Similarly, a December "Secession Ball" held in Charleston drew protests and a candlelight vigil by the NAACP.

Though, I wish there actually were a commission, I think this is all pretty great. It's worth lauding Barbour for directly refusing to approve the state license plate. I'm sure there are concrete political reasons for his stance, but I've never much been swayed by the notion that politicians should be denied praise because they've done the right thing for political reasons. They're politicians. It's their job.

But for that same reason, the lionshare of the praise goes to the country at large. We have collectively decided that you simply can not contend for national office and defend a Grand Wizard of the Klan. That sounds like faint praise. But again, I'd argue as recently as a two decades ago, that was not true.

The march of history is slow. But it does us no good to act like it isn't happening.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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