Opinion

ELLIS: An open letter to Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert

Based upon media reports, it is obvious that you received my letter, dated June 29, requesting that the local government remove the Confederate statues located in downtown Macon to a museum or perhaps Rose Hill Cemetery, where the burial ground is dedicated to and populated by the fallen from Macon who fought in the Civil War. It is my understanding, based on media reports, that your refusal to consider such requests is based upon your belief that these statues and monuments pay tribute to the bravery and patriotism of those who died while fighting to divide our country and maintain an economic system based upon the free labor of enslaved Africans and their descendants.

To the best of my knowledge of history, I cannot recall one place on Earth where a defeated army gets to raise statues to itself. I, like you, served our country honorably in Vietnam, another unjust and losing war, but we shouldn’t ever expect to gaze upon a statue dedicated to the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces and our South Vietnamese counterparts in the city square of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) or any other city or hamlet in Vietnam. Nor would anyone ever expect to see a statue dedicated to the “brave” men of the Third Reich of Hitler’s Army in Germany, France or Russia, although I am sure some of those men fought gallantly for a brutal and poisonous regime.

Those who fought for the Confederacy were traitors and committed acts of treason against their country -- the United States of America -- in order to maintain slavery under the guise of states’ rights in order to continue the practice of slave labor to preserve an economy built on the backs of those enslaved and to uphold white supremacy. Perhaps the men of Macon fought heroically in battle, but it was for the wrong reason; therefore, their efforts don’t warrant a statue in the town square of a modern city where many of its inhabitants are descendants of those enslaved.

My assumption, which I am willing to wager, is that not one member of the African-American community was consulted or even considered when the decision was made to erect these statues in 1889, the height of the Jim Crow era in our city and throughout the South of separate but unequal social justice and civil rights. Although according to the 1880 census, approximately one half of Macon’s population was negro, colored or mulattos. We were seen in the eyes of the majority of the white community as invisible people, as Ralph Ellison described black people in that era in his best-selling novel, “The Invisible Man.” Therefore, the question that begs to be answered is, “Would you or any other person of good will advocate erecting such statues in the town square of today’s Macon?” I believe that the answer would be a resounding no.

As I stated in my earlier letter to you, I was impressed with your pronouncement during your first inaugural address upon taking office in December 2007, when you publicly apologized for your lack of action or merely sitting on the sideline during the civil rights movement in our city during the 1960s when African-Americans and others joined forces to tear down the walls of discrimination and segregation.

By your own admission, you stood or sat on the wrong side of history. Now, you have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history by removing these statues, which are offensive to the majority of our citizens. I ask you to follow the leadership of the people of Kentucky as they removed a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the old Confederacy, from the Capitol grounds in Frankfort, Kentucky.

We can both agree that, given our history in Macon and Bibb County, we have come a long way in eradicating racism, both individual and institutional, but I am sure you will also agree that there is much work yet to be done in order to close the racial divide socially, politically and economically.

In closing, I am reminded of the words of President Abraham Lincoln at the close of the deadly and ill-conceived Civil War, when our country was on the verge of being reunited. He stated, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Yours for an inclusive, progressive and prosperous Macon.

C. Jack Ellis is a former mayor of Macon.

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