This Is Excellent News for Bobby Lee

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.
Presented by

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.

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This wildly inventive short film takes you on a whirling, spinning tour of the Big Apple

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in National

From This Author

Just In