Robert E. Lee statue in New Orleans

Crews prepare to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a prominent traffic circle in New Orleans, May 19, 2017.

I got a letter from the Klan.

Technically, it’s a letter to the editor for The Star’s opinion page. And the guy who wrote it — the national director of the American Christian Knights, a Mississippi-based chapter of the Ku Klux Klan — also emailed it to newspapers in Cullman and Jasper and Andalusia and Gadsden and Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. In March, that group left recruiting fliers in driveways in Luvurne. So, it’s not just an Anniston thing.

Whew.

His anger is, let’s say, predictable. Boiled down, it’s all because New Orleans removed four Confederate monuments this month from city parks. So he’s planning a petition to get Martin Luther King Jr.’s name removed from road signs, schools, buildings and parks. Everywhere? Just in Alabama and Mississippi? He doesn’t say. If the Klan can’t have its Confederate imagery, his logic goes, black Americans can’t commemorate MLK.

He left out the part about God-fearing, church-going, pure-blooded, white Christians also valuing MLK’s legacy, too. Guess he was too busy trying to prove, as the American Christian Knights’ website claims, that they’re not a hate group and are instead a family oriented, Christian-based organization.

This is the part of America’s never-ending argument about Confederate commemoration that ardent Lost Cause defenders don’t want to discuss. It’s their elephant in the room. They stick to the basic themes — not all Southerners owned slaves, most Confederates were merely protecting their homes, it’s not about hate — while ignoring the fact that this same Confederate imagery is impossible to separate from white supremacists, hate groups, Klanners and racial animosity.

Want to fly the Confederate battle flag on your porch? Go ahead. The American Christian Knights display it prominently on their website.

Want to honor Confederate figures like Nathan Bedford Forrest? Go ahead. In Jacksonville, the monument to the Confederate dead on the square carries a passage from a letter written by Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s only president. “Be it ours to transmit to posterity our unequivocal confidence in the righteousness of the cause for which these men died,” it says.

The monument doesn’t identify that righteous cause, and it doesn’t need to. They died by taking up arms against the United States to defend their state’s right to govern as it pleased. And the Confederate government, as written in its constitution, proclaimed that “the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress.” Saying Confederate flags and Confederate monuments have nothing to do with slavery is like saying intercourse has nothing to do with pregnancy.

On the day the Robert E. Lee statue was removed from New Orleans’ Lee Circle, Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave an impassioned speech on why the Confederate monuments had to come down. New Orleans, he explained, is a complicated city of varying shades and creeds and languages, immigrants from all corners of the globe, “a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.”

And then he said this:

“... It immediately begs the questions; why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame ... all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.”

Landrieu’s speech is ageless, pitch-perfect and wholly right.

America’s communities are different, though. New Orleans is unique. So, too, is Charlottesville, Va., about 70 miles from the former Confederate capital of Richmond. A few weeks ago, white supremacists with Klan-like torches held a nighttime protest against a City Council plan to remove a Lee statue. The courts will decide what happens next, if Lee stays or goes.

Charlottesville’s Landrieu is Michael Signer — an attorney and lecturer at the University of Virginia. He voted against moving the statue, and his side lost. In a Washington Post op-ed, he claims to be a progressive who believes “we shouldn’t honor the dishonorable Confederate cause, but we shouldn’t try to erase it, either.”

Instead of taking monuments down, he’s called for building new sites that complete the Confederacy’s story through Jim Crow, the civil rights movement and beyond. The city will remove Confederate names from city parks, add signage with historical information, and spend $1 million on new monuments that “acknowledge our awful history of slavery, segregation and racism while elevating our true heroes and reflecting our values today.”

Here in Alabama, nothing like this can occur because Gov. Kay Ivey and the state Legislature have deemed virtually anything Confederate untouchable. It’s a cowardly approach. No other Calhoun County city has a slave history deeper than Jacksonville’s, and its square still talks about “the righteousness of the cause.” The values of today’s Alabama should be better than that.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.

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