How to be Anti-Racist and Honor Southern History

A photo of the "Confederate Building" in Macon, GA.

As the Black Lives Matter movement has gained national attention, many white Southerners have wondered how they can honor their Southern History while also recognizing the racism deeply ingrained in it. Mercer University Professor Matthew Harper had some places to start.

 

1. Be open to unlearning the false narratives of history that you have been taught

 

Try doing your own research into the history you’ve been told about. Be open to sharing your findings with family and friends. Make posts on Facebook about the things you have learned and make it normal to talk about learning new things instead of being afraid to have been wrong. 

Part of unlearning false narratives of history is realizing what tools have been used to perpetuate them and the ways that you have been taught to believe something that is historically inaccurate.  

The idea that the Civil War was fought over “state’s rights” is an example of a revisionist historical narrative (where people rewrite history for their own benefit) created by white southern socialites. Georgia released a declaration clearly stating why the state seceded: they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. [link] 

Many history textbooks in the South still teach students that the Civil War was fought over “state’s rights” or downplay the role slavery had in the war. Meanwhile, Confederate monuments still glorify the soldiers who knowingly fought to protect the institution of slavery. Both of these things are used as tools to romanticize the Confederacy. To work on unlearning this narrative, Harper recommended looking into the declarations of secession from individual states and the cornerstone speech given by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens. 

Reading statements directly from original sources is a great way to get a better idea of what happened in history. You can be your own historian and come to your own conclusions.

2. Work to protect Black public history 

Harper said that Black history should not be seen as “history meant for only Black people” but instead history that everyone should be learning.

In order to help protect and support this public history,  Harper recommends going to museums and monuments specifically honoring Black history. This could include going to the Tubman Museum or even going on a walking tour of the monuments to Black history in Macon. 

Make a habit to visit monuments and museums that focus on Black history when you go on vacations or visit new cities. 

While Confederate monuments are used to uphold false narratives, museums focused on Black history actively work to dismantle those narratives and allow Black Americans the chance to learn their own history. 

“It’s meant as a corrective,” Mercer University professor Matthew Harper said. 

3.  Read history books that challenge you

 

 

Consuming media that challenges the way you view the world is a great way to unlearn the things you have been taught that might have been negatively influenced by racism.

“A More Beautiful and Terrible History” by Jeanne Theoharris is a great introduction to learning how to reconceptualize the south. “The New Jim Crow” by  Michelle Alexander is a way to learn about how Black American communities have been targets of over-policing.

 “Macon Black and White: An Unutterable Separation in the American Century” by Andrew Manis talks about the history of race in Macon. All of these books are currently available at the Middle Georgia Regional Library.

If books aren’t your style, Harper recommended looking into education online. Youtube will let you watch 2019’s “Just Mercy” for free [link] and PBS has an entire series dedicated to Black history [link]

 

4. Fight for equal representation of Black history in your city

 

When Black history is not represented in your city, all community members suffer. Macon deserves a chance to proudly display its history of Black resilience.

Harper recommended Macon make monuments about the African brigade who kept the peace in Macon after the Civil War and consider making monuments that aren’t just focused on popular figures in Black American history but specifically Macon and Georgia history. 

The fact that Black history is often hidden away in towns is a point that Harper stresses in his classes, but these problems are easily fixed. 

The Mulberry Street placard for William and Ellen Craft, who published the book “Running A Thousand Mile For Freedom” about their escape from slavery in Macon, could be remade in a way that makes it viewable from the road in the same way that the numerous Confederate monuments are in Macon.

“Rosa Parks Square”, which sits on the corner of Poplar and First street could also be remade in a way that meant it was not easily missed, nor overshadowed by a Confederate monument. 

All of these things are only the beginning of how to be anti-racist while honoring your history. The most important things are to listen to Black people, uplift Black voices, and be comfortable with re-evaluating what you have been taught.