Author’s note: In the Old Testament the difference between the major prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the minor prophets like Joel and Hosea, lies not in what they say — the difference is that the books of the major prophets are longer than those of the minor prophets. In the same way what distinguishes this In my View column and a Letter to the Editor is not what I say — it just takes me longer to say it.
I am from the South. Just as much as I am an American, just as much as I am a Catholic, just as much as I am a priest, being from the South is part of who I am. In the years that I lived away, being from Kentucky and from the South became important to me.
While I lived in Los Angeles in my early twenties, I read the Easter Sunday sermon given at a small African-American church in Mississippi from William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” and I was grateful to be from the South. As I lived in an old hotel in downtown Nashville, several years later the melody of a country song whose words I could not hear drifted to my ears and I felt the sadness of the Southern soul.
For me, being from the South has included being proud of the valor with which Confederate soldiers served in the Civil War. The present conversation that is taking place in our community over removing the statue of a Confederate soldier from the Courthouse Square has reminded me that the Civil War was fought to preserve an economic system in which Black men, women and children were looked upon as the property of a slave owner like the farm animals he owned. I am grateful to be reminded of the evil of slavery then and the evil of racism now.
We as a community are being given the opportunity to recognize all that the statue of the Confederate soldier means to a significant portion of our community — of being treated as less than human, of burning crosses being placed in front of their homes and being terrorized. Being sensitive to this and honoring those members of the community by removing the statue from its current place is, I believe, the right thing to do. We are being given the opportunity to express our regret for these things and to ask forgiveness.
But the question arises for me: As I let go of this pride in the valor of the Confederate soldier, what do I put in its place? Perhaps the same question arises for our community as we look at removing the Confederate soldier from the courthouse square: What do we put in its place?
The question, I believe, is not only about physically moving a piece of bronze; the question is a spiritual one. Can we find someone, something that unites us as a community rather than divides us, something of which all members of our community can be proud?
In the last year, a statue of Abraham Lincoln, sitting on a bench, was placed in front of City Hall. Lincoln was born in Kentucky and lived much of his youth just across the Ohio River. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the enslaved. Lincoln’s life and the greatness he achieved through struggles both personal and national have long inspired me.
The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is one of my favorite places. Here Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Lincoln sits in a great chair, possessed of a quiet dignity, surrounded by the words, inscribed in stone, which he uttered at Gettysburg and at the conclusion of his Second Inaugural Address, as he pleaded for the healing of a nation torn apart by war shortly before he was assassinated: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
As we remove the statue of the Confederate soldier from the courthouse square, perhaps in its place a replica of the statue of Lincoln at his memorial can unite us?
The Rev. Ray Clark is a priest in the Diocese of Owensboro.