156 years ago, Confederate batteries under Gen. Pierre G.T. Beauregard fired on the Union-held Fort Sumter, launching the bloodiest and most devastating war in American history. By the war’s end in 1865, the dead numbered at 620,000 on both sides. The end of the war marked a new era in American history, where the American Dream was extended to all men and women of all races and nationalities. Sure, prejudice has persisted, but a major step was taken in the direction of equality. The mentality after the war, especially in the South, was that those who fought in the war, no matter what side, should be remembered. And so, monuments were built honoring the dead and reminding those who viewed them of the value of unity and the cost of division.
Those monuments have stood for over a hundred years now, and have been viewed by many generations of Americans. But, the events of Charlottesville have brought to light the growing controversy surrounding these monuments. On one side, there are those who believe these monuments are symbols of slavery and racism and need to be taken down. On the other are the people who think these statues represent their heritage and legacy and therefore must be preserved. The Charlottesville riot, as horrible as it was, was only a symptom of a larger problem. Conservatives and Liberals are using Charlottesville and other such events to discredit each other and earn more support. More protests have been planned in multiple states, and they promise to be just as tense as Charlottesville was. So, the question is, how does this affect us here in Kennesaw?
During the Civil War, Kennesaw Mountain became the center of a battle to defend Atlanta from the approaching army of General Sherman. The city of Kennesaw decided to memorialize this conflict through the creation of Commemorative Park downtown. However, there is a controversy over a Confederate Flag flying on a monument in the park that is quickly growing. The monument represents William A. Fuller, who was responsible for the retrieval of the locomotive known as “The General” after the Great Locomotive Chase. Protesters are calling for the flag’s immediate removal, and an online petition created for this purpose has 2,600 signatures according to the AJC. The flag has already been removed and replaced several times, which begs the question: what is the government doing about it?
The flag, per an agreement with the government, belongs to the nation, not the city. With the recent protests, however, the city council has approved a resolution to be sent to the state legislature which will put the flag in the city’s hands and allow the council to do with it what they want. What that will be remains to be seen. In nearby Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed agreed that the decision should be left to legislators, and we will not know their decision until February.
Why is this flag such an issue to so many?
According to Reid Jones, a 2016 KMHS alumni and the man who started the petition for the flag’s removal, “I think as the flag stands currently it is a symbol of hate and division within our nation.” Many others see this as the truth, but others see things differently.
Cooper Jervey, president of the Young Republicans Club at KMHS, said, “That’s some people’s heritage that you’re disrespecting, and even though that might not be what you believe in, it is what other people believe in.”
This brings to light the true nature of this issue: people’s beliefs. This is a much more personal argument, and that is what makes it so important to American society. No matter where you are in the country, you will find some sign of this clash of ideals. Maybe it’s that news station your parents always leave running when you’re eating dinner. Maybe it’s that Trump flag your neighbor hung up last night. Maybe it’s that super political kid in your English class always ranting about the evils of the Right and how they’re going to destroy our society. This forces you to ask yourself, “what do I believe?” But before you decide, think about this.
I asked Jones if he thought the flag and other monuments should be moved to a museum for preservation and for education. He replied, “Yes. That is my biggest push right now.” So, contrary to what the media (and the president) would have you believe, campaigners for monument removal don’t just want to eradicate these things from existence. Most of them, like Jones, respect their historical value and want them to be preserved as a tool for educating the populace on the events surrounding the Civil War and exactly what it was about.
What about the people who are fighting to keep the monuments though? What do they think? According to Cooper Jervey, “I guess it would be a better alternative than tearing them down.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What? Liberals and Conservatives actually agreed on something? It’s the end of the world!”
But it’s true. There is common ground.
In fact, Meredith Johns, president of the Young Democrats Club at KMHS, not only agreed but added,, “Situations like [Stone Mountain] where it is celebrating the Confederacy but it’s huge or impractical to put in a museum, I think there should just be accommodations.” These accommodations, according to her, would be “More education about how these men bravely fought for their cause, but their cause was problematic.”
So, here’s the takeaway. It’s simple: everyone wants you to pick a side. Liberal or Conservative. Republican or Democrat. They will tell you that the other side is wrong, maybe even unpatriotic. Don’t listen. Yes, there is a difference between the Right and the Left, a divide even. But it is not as big as the world wants you to think. It’s not black and white, it’s politics. What you have to remember, what we all have to remember, is that we are all Americans. If you can just take the time to listen to and to understand the other side, you will find that you have more in common than you ever thought you could.