From South of Left Field: Racist much by Jimmie Galbreath

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From South of Left FieldRacist much

Truth is often unpleasant. Having grown up in the heartland of Jim Crow, the innate racism of the region was woven into me in ways that decades later I am still striving to unravel. The journey and struggle will last the rest of my life. Our society, America, is also faced with this same struggle. The evolution of any society requires factual information combined with critical self-examination.

Emotional responses will occur in reaction to new knowledge or awareness, and this is the moment where new understanding can be forged. Growth happens when the emotional response is examined with brutal honesty, and that which embarrasses us is accepted as being a part of who we are. Only then can we change and grow.

The Confederate States of America is such a journey for me. ‘Common knowledge’ reinforced by our limited teaching of history built a myth about the Civil War for me as a child. A genteel plantation based society of grandeur fighting nobly to continue its way of life. Great Generals and soldiers strode the field of battle against the odds, outnumbered but gaining many victories before being overwhelmed by superior numbers. They fought for ‘States Rights’ to continue self-government rather than being told how they must live by Washington.

This vision was reinforced and anchored to my reality by the monuments, flags, and celebrations. The problem was, none of it was true.

Older and better educated now, it is clear that economic self-preservation by the rich upper class that populated the state governments and wealthier professions drove us to rebel in an attempt to protect their power and wealth. A wealth-based entirely on slavery. The slaves were considered little more than animals and were treated as such. This view was reinforced from the pulpits throughout the South. I have provided a snippet from three articles of Secession laying out the reasons for leaving the United States of America.

Georgia – “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States concerning the subject of African slavery. ”
Mississippi – “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. ”

Texas – ” She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. ”

Now a small example from the Confederate Constitution itself – ” Article IV Section 3(3) – The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have the power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several states; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form states to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory, the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress, and by the territorial government: and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories, shall have the right to take to such territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the states or territories of the Confederate states.”

How can there be any doubt that the Confederate States fought to preserve slavery? Because I thought of the Confederacy as a part of my heritage this hurt. Was I calling a war fought to keep slaves something I was proud of? A heritage is something of pride, a source of identity held up to honor who I was. I found nothing here deserving of honor or pride but rather regret. No wonder the claim of fighting for ‘states rights’ was used as a reason to try leaving the United States. Leaving to protect slavery was too shameful to be claimed or admitted.

Now the luster of the genteel plantation society began to show it’s an ugly truth. Human slavery was the foundation; filled with beatings, children sold out of the arms of their parents, degradation, and rape when it suited the owners. To claim this as my heritage, even though my family was not from that class, is to say this is a source of pride for me. It isn’t now.

The people whose statues are at the center of the latest tumult rejected citizenship; they were no longer citizens of the United States of America. Those generals commanded armies that fought and killed US soldiers by the hundreds of thousands. They killed American soldiers for the right to keep slaves. They were not soldiers of the United States of America.

These people and ideals should not be a source of heritage but rather a history. They belong in history texts, museums and battlefield parks. To improve us all this history needs to be displayed as the dark chapter in my family history just like it is the dark chapter in American history. Taught and displayed to encourage us all to lay to rest the roots of racism that stalk our streets today.

To many, this likely sounds harsh, but it is a literal truth. Strange as it may sound I am still subject to sudden flashes of resentment when the subject of the removal of Confederate statues comes up. Intellectually, I know the statues must be removed to a purely historical setting or melted down. They do not reflect the United States of America. They are not soldiers of the United States of America. Emotionally this child of Jim Crow has still got some growing to do.

A final note; I am disappointed to learn that the Talbot Boys retain enough support to continue to survive. It is a symbol glorifying the fight to protect slavery, lifting those who fought and killed American soldiers up as people to be glorified for their actions. The presence of this monument on county property clearly states to one and all that Talbot County as a whole has chosen to honor the effort to continue slavery by honoring those who fought to protect it. Talbot County displays no other message here.

Jimmie Galbreath is a retired Engineer originally from a small family owned a dairy farm in Jefferson County, MS. He earned a B.S in Petroleum Engineering from MS State University, accumulating 20 years Nuclear experience at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. Along the way, he worked as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, served three years active service as a Quartermaster Officer in the US Army, Supervised brick kilns first in MS than in Atlanta GA and whatever else it took to skin the cat. He now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Letters to Editor

  1. John Patterson says:

    Man, I laud you to the skies for the way you’ve used your mind, your feelings, and the history around you as tools to understand that world you lived in and the new life you’ve created. You’ve dodged the bullet aimed at my brain by the tangled scholar who earned his keep by writing that line, I was expected to swallow, in my high school history book: “There were some good slave holders.” It was as if an orchestra’s pianist banged on the keyboard then ordered us, his companions, to do the same and call it music or else! Reading what you’ve written is such a wonderful way to start this day! All good things to you and Maribeth, and keep on, keepin’ on!

    • Jimmie L Galbreath Jr. says:

      Thank you John. The journey was hit and miss for me and took quite a few years to get as far as I have. The road still goes onward and I know more is buried within me yet. I hope we all continue to move forward.

  2. Martha Witte Susss says:

    Thank you Jimmie,

    I applaud your succinct revelation. I feel similarly with regard to the Talbot boys. But was sorely disappointed when I saw that the Talbot County Council voted to keep the monument intact. I guess we have to wait until trump incites more violence for us to revisit this. Next week perhaps?

    • Jimmie L Galbreath Jr. says:

      Thank you Martha. I don’t advocate destruction of history but rather honest and complete history where it belongs. The early mythology I learned as a child is a wedge to prevent understanding those deeply hurt and abused by slavery. Like the Holocaust it should be held up as a warning, not as a heritage.

  3. Dominic "Mickey" Terrone says:

    Hello Jimmie: Great letter! I’d add that there are probably many Talbot County folks whose names appear on the Talbot Boys monument who understand exactly what you articulated. I recently visited with a local resident whom I have known to be a staunch supporter of leaving the statue just as it is. Then I asked him what he knew about the Lost Cause mythology. He said he’d never heard of it. There are at least two very good books in our County library that speak to that subject directly. I’d suggest that every flag supporter should read about how history has been doctored – even as flag supporters claim That “the winners wrote the history”. In the Civil War, the losers wrote their own history.

    • Jimmie L Galbreath Jr. says:

      Thank you Mickey. I am planning on getting a library card along with my wife soon. Most of my reading through the years has been on World War II but the connectivity of all history bleeds into out current life as well. My childhood reading was indeed of “Lost Cause’ variety. Perhaps I am old and wise enough to dip a toe back into the Civil War and the foundations that led to it again. Especially the timeline followed by other Countries is ending slavery before we did here.

  4. Nancy Bundy says:

    Has the statue honoring confederate soldiers received a county-wide vote of support? Why does Talbot County have a statue on public property to honor soldiers who fought against the American flag and against the United States Army and Navy – killing our soldiers and sailors? My father served in the US Army at Guadacanal in WWII and I take the statue honoring traitors displayed on public property that my taxes support, as an insult to his service and sacrifice for our country.
    Robert E. Lee resolutely advised there be no statues to the confederacy to heal the country. The statue in front of Talbot County courthouse is an affront to our nation.

    • Jimmie L Galbreath Jr. says:

      My thanks for your support. I understand completely as I had two uncles serve in World War II. It seems our elected officials can’t wrap their heads around history. My objection is the location which displays it as a proud legacy rather than a tragic page in our history where it really belongs.

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