man001054. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1z032p7v
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HIDDEN HEROES BY ROOSEVELT FITZGERALD
I don't really recall the first time that I saw a statue of a person but I'm sure it was in my hometown of Natchez and that it was of some Civil War Confederate soldier. If you've ever travelled through the south, just about any town of any size has a statue of a Confederate leader or of a local lad who fought bravely in the "War Of The Lost Cause" to preserve a way of life] The fact that that way of life, which is usually described as existing at a time of graciousness and chivalry, was anchored in the most brutal system of slavery ever to exist does not seem to matter to large segments of the population in those places.
In Richmond, Virginia there is a street called Monument Avenue. It has been reported that most southerners, white southerners that is, consider it "the most beautiful street in America." It just occurred to me that when we use the term "southerner" we usually do not include black people of the south. I wonder why? Anyway, Monument Avenue is a boulevard lined with statues of the heroes of the Confederacy. A 62 foot tall statue of General Robert E. Lee was the first to be erected in 1890. The presence of such an array of statues serve as a constant visual reminder to everyone who lives in Richmond of a time long since past. The state history texts of those places are replete with the names, battles and victories of all of the traitors whose likenesses stare down on all onlookers with arrogance and contempt.
Owing to the fanfare that they receive they are held up as role models for the youth of those communities. White youth possibly visualize themselves as being the inheritors of the values which those men fought and died for. Black youth, on the other hand, are forced to languish in an environment in which, by inference, the larger portion of the community not only do not view them as equals but also longs for the days when people like them were in fact
slaves. That being the case because all those men represented by those statues
waged a war to keep a whole race of people subservient and in chains, it is no wonder that the prevailing racist mentality continues to manifest itself.
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario. An old man and a little boy come upon each other in the town square of Anytown. Southern Statel They both come to a halt in front of a statue of a Confederate soldier. They stand there for a while, side by side, and there's a gleam in the old man's eyes. His countenance is a picture of reverence. The little boy notices and asks: "Who is this a statue of Mister?" The old man struggles to get his breath because he is so overcome with emotion but, finally, he replies; "That's one of the greatest men who ever lived. That's General Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was a cavalry officer in the war and he risked his life day in and day out to preserve our way of lifej "He did?" "Yup. He sure did." "What do you mean by way of life?" "Why I mean he fought to save our right to make a living any way we saw fit and that mean't keeping slavery and the coloreds in their place." "Gee. When I grow up I want to be just like him-- a real hero."
Yeah, Forrest was an officer in the cavalry of the Confederacy but he was more than that. Not only did he fight to preserve slavery, but, following the introduction of the black soldier by the Union, Forrest was one of those officers who instituted a policy of not taking negro prisoners of war. In whatever battles he was involved in in which there were negro soldiers and his forces were victorious, he systematically massacred negro soldiers. If those qualities were not outstanding enough, Forrest was also one of the original founders of the Knights of the White Camelia which later became the White knights of the Klu Klux Klan. What standards for generations of young people to strive for.
When we encase our mouthings of equality, justice and American democracy in a value system reeking with a philosophy of racial superiority, brutality and racism, it is no wonder that we find ourselves fighting a losing battle--
yet another "lost cause." The presence of these kinds of blueprints for life makes the absence of black heroes from our history all the more devastating.
We have had many black heroes but their achievements have pretty much gone unnoted. When we think of all the slaves who managed to survive that institution's brutality we are talking about millions of heroes--heroes without names. Then there are those with names; Attucks, Beckwourth, Towns, Tubman, Whipple, Bannecker, Truth, Douglass, Washington, Carver, DuBois, and all those other historic figures whose deeds traverse the centuries. There are recent figures; Marshall, Hamer, Evers, Till, Louis, Bunche, B.O. Davis, Ali, Bontemps and, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In my hometown, at least as recently as my latest visit there, there were no statues of any black heroes. The question, clearly in focus, is why is that the case? What destructive forces could be unleashed if there were? The only thing which comes to mind is such statues would dispel the notion in the minds of many that there are no heroic figures in our country's history. By inference, the absence suggests that there are no black heroes. The absence of that presence inspires much in the hearts and minds, both conscious.y and unconsciously, which does not bode well for any of us. For such places as Natchez, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Chicago, Kansas City and others to contemplate erecting a statue commemmorating the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to remove the shameful veil which has shrouded and kept in darkness that which should have been a garden of paradise of democracy and fair play is tantamount to establishing colonies on the face of the Sun.
We need statues--statues in parks and town squares and other public places. We need statues of our heroes and not just for ourselves. Certainly, it is important that our own self concepts become enhanced through the knowledge of the deeds of our ancestors and contemporaries but of equal importance is the
Imagine, if you will, a second scenario. An old man and a little girl come upon each other in the town square of Anytown, Southern State. They both come to a halt in front of a statue. They stand there for a while, side by sid, and there's a gleam in the old man's eyes. His countenance is a picture of reverence. The little girl notices and asks; "Who is this a statue of Mister?" The old man struggles to get his breath because he is so overcome with emotion but, finally, he replies; "That's one of the greatest men who ever lived. That's Dr. Martin Luther King. He was a freedom fighter and he risked his life day in and day out to bring equality and respect to every citizen in this country and around the world." "He did?" "Yup. He sure did." "What do you mean by equality and respect?" "Why I mean he gave his life fighting for the rights of every American citizen to have the same rights to a good education, to live wherever they want, to vote, to have decent jobs and to have equal protections." "Gee. When I grow up I want to be just like him-- a hero for all the people."