April 9th is the anniversary of the official end of the Civil War. On this day in 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. What would have been the empire of slavery, a divided United States, a former shell of its intended self, was not to be. The rebellion built on treachery, treason, racism, and economic self-interest was over.
The war, in an official sense, of armies engaging in the field, came to an end. One hundred years later, in the wake of the Voting and Civil Rights acts, a low-level guerilla war was still being waged across the former states of the Confederacy. Poll workers were murdered. Protesters were brutally attacked. Violence was still commonplace for those wanting to exercise the rights guaranteed by a war fought a century earlier.
In many ways, that’s where we are today. Stalled in the present, angry at being challenged about the lies we believe, and comfortable living as a backward dwelling past people. We find our identity in early 20th-century soldier statues to a war no living remembers. Our cars fly a flag that symbolizes so much hate that it can barely be contained in the Chinese made stickers that dominate our bumpers.
This is who we are in the 21st century south on Appomattox Day. We are not free people. We are held captive to our own racist imagery and the ignorant notion that hate isn’t hated. The war never ended. We pretend Lee won, Jackson lived, and Confederate raiders make life a living hell for the impoverished thousands who can’t come to swallow the “heritage not hate” red pill being offered by our neighbors.
No, you cannot erase history. Lee surrendered. Take down your banners. Remove your monuments to racism, brutality, and defeat. The war is over. On the scale of death and carnage America witnessed, no one can be said to be victorious. People talk about the “religion of lost cause”. Hate is the original lost cause. You are worshiping hate.
Heritage is remembering a family recipe, not recalling a distant relative who fought to keep human beings in bondage. There is no honor in dying to keep rich men rich and slaves in chains. Today, I want to give thanks and remember how we were saved by a drunk from an Ohio. I’m grateful the God-fearing Episcopalian from Virginia lost.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Richard Lowell Bryant