Monday, May 22, 2017

Scalawag

You won't find me mourning the dismantling of Confederate statues in public squares in New Orleans. You'll find me wondering what the hell took them so long to do it. And chuckling at the Minnesota-born gubernatorial candidate in Virginia who likens it to ISIS destruction of ancient monuments: does anyone see any actual destruction going on? I hope they figure out how to get some Federal greenbacks out of these treasonous travesties of tradition requiring public money for upkeep.

I'm a scalawag. Always have been. In case you don't know, "scalawag" is what Confederates called fellow southerners who supported the Union. In my case I suppose it comes from having a Yankee mother. But my father was a New Orleans native, and the maddest I ever saw him was when a friend described Abraham Lincoln as a racist.

I remember arguments in elementary school. "You have to be a Confederate because you were born in the South." I wasn't having any of that. I ordered me a Yankee uniform from F.A.O. Schwartz and wore it trackside when Chattanooga's railroad symbol, The General, returned home after a trip to the New York World's Fair (this was before the Supreme Court let Georgia steal it). The only person who even noticed was a nice old lady who said, "Look at the cute little Confederate!" My blood could've steamed The General down the track a ways.

Back then I didn't know that I had a notable Confederate ancestor--Joseph Adolphe Chalaron, a brother of my great-great grandfather (from New Orleans, natch), whose published and unpublished reminiscences of his experiences as an artillery officer richly inform The Pride of the Confederate Artillery: The Washington Artillery in the Army of Tennessee by Nat Hughes (who is also, by picquant coincidence, a Chattanoogan). Post-bellum, Chalaron became secretary of the Louisiana Historical Society and archivist/superintendent of Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans.

For all that, we--not even my father--knew nothing of him until one day at Chickamauga battlefield. I was with my parents and my son, who was probably four or five, which would put this at around 1987. As I remember it, my mother was reading one of those large, rectangular, metal unit markers with raised type and noticed something: "Look, Steve [my father]--here's somebody whose last name is Chalaron." This name, one of my father's middle names and passed along as a middle name to my older brother Kevin, is not all that common even in Louisiana where my father was born.

J. A. Chalaron then turned up again on a marker up on Missionary Ridge, right above the McCallie School, almost atop the eastbound tube of the highway tunnel. It turned out to be the point where the Union army burst through the Confederate lines in their famous breakout from the siege of Chattanooga in 1863. After that my father started looking into him, which restored his memory to his descendants.

His institution, Confederate Memorial Hall, is now a museum in New Orleans. It is just off Lee Circle, one of the places that just had its statue removed. With "the second-largest collection of Confederate Civil War items in the world" (Wikipedia), it is safe to say that the museum--a private non-profit entity--has a future assured by never-ending fascination with the Civil War, even though Marse Robert will no longer be keeping it company.

Unless the museum buys the statue. The museum can do whatever it wants to remember the Lost Cause. After all, it has a mission.

But the cause itself needs to remain good and lost. In order for that to happen, we must not forget the basic truths that Robert Lee and my Chalaron ancestor fought to destroy the United States of America and establish a nation founded upon African-American slavery; and then, when the South's bid for nationhood failed, it continued by violence to deny citizenship to African-Americans and to keep them in peonage. Meanwhile the racial hegemonists celebrated and maintained their thrall in part by putting up statues in public places.

Whatever kind of statue can memorialize those truths is the kind that should go up not just in New Orleans, but all over the South.

That would make this scalawag happy. After all, I have to live with the undying shame of sending three kids to Sullivan South High School (Sullivan County, TN) whose mascot is a Confederate and where the Confederate battle flag blooms during football season. Tradition, they say. Okay. If your "tradition" rests on the foundation of the denial of basic human and civil rights to others because of their so-called "race," I'd just as soon you check into the Confederate Memorial Hall and stay there. Because that's where you belong: securely in the past.

It's a scalawag thang. You might not understand.








2 comments:

  1. The family resemblance is remarkable. I'm having to stop myself from Photoshop faceswitching you and mr. Chalaron there..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just please give me his mustachios!

      Delete