At the Greensboro News and Record, Joanna Winston Foley, descended from a Revolutionary War hero who was also a slaveholder, struggles with a renewed awareness of her ancestry in the light of the death of George Floyd and the cascade of events it triggered. It is a sensitive and moving piece, well worth your while.
I have long believed that one of the elements that make the myth of the lost cause and of the land of gracious living so tenacious is a desire of many Southerners to avoid facing the reality of what their ancestors did so as to profit from stolen labor.
I can empathize. Both of us are Southerners, both of us had ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War and other ancestors who wore the grey. I think my turning point–not as regards my stand on civil rights or on treating other people like people, but as regards my view of my family’s history–came when, at the Harper’s Ferry Wax Museum, we were looking at an exhibit depicting one of my forebears defending slavery.
As we looked at it, one of my children said, “. . . he was on the wrong side?”
I had to agree.
Yes, he was.
In every possible way.
Here’s a bit from her article:
During my heritage visit to Greensboro seven years ago, these two aspects of his life — Joseph Winston’s public service to help build the new American nation and his private moral failure to live up to his Christian faith — sat side by side in my consciousness without quite connecting.
This blind spot, big as a boulder, remained in place until June 2020. The word “privilege” comes to mind — the white privilege of avoiding discomfort.
As those statues came crashing down, so did that blind spot that separated my feelings about my ancestor.
*Of course, that does not explain why those whose families did not participate in the war, indeed, whose families had not yet arrived here when the war was fought, bought into the lies. For that, look to a century and a half of one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in history, perhaps best represented by that over-the-top potboiler, Gone with the Wind.