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An Open Report / Confederate Memorial Month Continued
On Saturday, May 10, 2008, I would cross the mountains into Sylvia, North Carolina where I was scheduled to give the keynote speech for Confederate Memorial Day Services hosted by the Jackson Rangers of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp to which I am also a proud member. Arriving some 9 hours early, I decided to pick up the Southern Cross and march 10 miles up the road to Western Carolina College. Today would mark graduation day at the college, and I could think of no better way of celebrating this special day. All along the way I would be greeted by the many throngs of cars heading to and fro along the highway. Some two miles from the campus I decided to stop under a shade tree for a break before I continued on. Needless to say I would remain under that tree for several more hours signing my name, posing for pictures, and most importantly holding court as I explained to many of those young folks and their family members why a black man would be on the side of the road dressed in the uniform of the Southern soldier and carrying his flag.
I was not surprised by some of the comments made by many of these young people who readied themselves for the world of work. However, I had to chide many for their apologizes for the bad treatment black folks had received in the South. I would tell them the words spoken by Booker T. Washington at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895: “It is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is the South that the Negro man is given a man’s chance in the commercial world, and in nothing is this exposition more eloquent than in emphasizing this chance.” Our greatest danger is that the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact the masses of us are to live by the production of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor and put brains and skill into common occupations of life - shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial - the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful.” Mr. Washington went on to say, I would tell them. “I do not know how it may be with other Northern friends of the negro, but I have faith in the honor and sincerity of the respectable white people of the South in their relations with the negro and his improvement and well-being. They do not believe in social equality of the race, they make no false pretense in regard to it. That this does not grow out of hatred of the negro is very plain. It seems to me that there is abundant sentiment and abundant behavior among the Southern whites toward the negroes to make us doubt the justice of charging this denial of social equality to prejudice, as we usually understand the word. Perhaps it is born of something so much deeper and more imperious than prejudice as to amount to a racial instinct.
“Whatever it is, let us remember that it has condoned the negro’s share in humiliation and spoliation of the white men of the south during the saturnalia (disdainful) of reconstruction days, and has allowed a kindly feeling for the negro to survive the time when the South was deluged by a perilous flood of indiscriminate, unintelligent negro suffrage. Whatever it is, let us try to be tolerant and considerate of the feelings and even the prejudice of the racial instinct of our white fellow countrymen of the South, who in the solution of the negro problem, must, amid their own surroundings, bear the heat of the day and stagger under the weight of the white man’s burden.
One young white baby boy would tell me that he had learned more in the short time that he had spent confabulating with me on this road on this day than he had learned about the South, its people and the war that it had fought against its brothers than at any time he had spent in the school he would graduate from in just a few hours. However, I would tell him that I had a great deal of affinity for Western Carolina College and that it was like most federal schools; they did not tell the Southern side of the era in which we spoke of. I would hold many more conversations on this day, but I knew that I had to make the 2 hour plus journey back to my car. Upon arriving back at my starting point, I would spend another hour at the intersection with my flag. I would join Commander Mike Parish and journey to the beautiful old Sylva courthouse where at 6PM, to a large crowd gathered, I would deliver the keynote address for Confederate Memorial Day. Afterwards I would join Commander Parish, his beautiful daughter Whitley, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, ladies of the Order of the Confederate Rose and other members of the public for supper. It had been a great day in Dixie.