“Better had Jefferson Davis and every man who held a commission in the Confederate Army been shot for treason than universal suffrage bestowed on an ignorant race.” – Captain E.W. Cannon, writing about Reconstruction.
I remember the first time I said it out-loud, in mixed company. My Great-Great Grandfather was a white supremacist. Captain E.W. Cannon served the Confederacy with Co. E, of the 6th Regiment of SC Volunteers. I grew up hearing the heroic tale of how he lost his leg at the Battle of Frazier’s Farm, Virginia. After the war, he served two terms in the state legislature as a representative for Darlington County and then as Darlington County Treasurer under the administration of Governor Wade Hampton. As a member of the Red Shirts, a paramilitary group that served to disrupt elections and suppress black voters, he played an instrumental role in undoing the efforts of Reconstruction and laying the groundwork for generations of “Jim Crowe” oppression. His youngest daughter, Ruth, was my Great-Grandmother and we were very close until she died when I was 19.
I am fortunate to have had such a close relationship with my Great-Grandmother. It has given me a clearer perspective on how my family and our identity as white Southerners evolved over the past 150 years since the end of the Civil War. I cannot erase our state’s legacy of genocide and disenfranchisement, but I can encourage other white Southerners to acknowledge it. Own it in all of its ugly truth. There is no romance in our ancestors’ crimes.
It’s time to take down the flag. Tear down the statues. For once in our history, let’s allow ourselves to be thoroughly disgusted by our heritage. We cannot build a future on the backs of ancestors who denied humanity to so many of our citizens. It was a “way of life” worth losing, and they were right to burn the whole thing down.