Battle over the past rages on in an evolving South
Bronzed Johnny Rebs, sprinting across a Capitol lawn, charging soundlessly for the ideals of the "lost cause," have long been seen as a quaint and largely harmless part of this region's heritage. Today, doubts rise alongside pride in regard to these sculpted heroes.
A school board declines to name a new high school in Cherokee County after Georgia's Civil War governor. Floridians question why Confederate soldiers adorn a water tower. Even the word "South," in some quarters, has become a slur - a convenient repository of national guilt over the exploitation of Africans in the Cotton Belt a century and a half ago.
Beyond Confederate flags coming down from statehouses, more-mundane symbols are increasingly being questioned on the local level: in town halls, college campuses, and even cemetery committees. It's part of a deepening homogenization of Southern culture that's causing anger and resentment among many in a proud region with perhaps 65 million people who consider themselves Southerners.
Some observers see a note of irony in the growing suppression of conservative Southern memorials at a time when old Confederate values like militarism, chivalry, gentility, and religiosity are gaining political prominence. It's a lesson, they say, in how a rebellious American region maintains its influence beneath pressure to rescind its mottoes and murals.
"The shooting war is over, but ... we're engaged in a cultural war for the heart and soul of the South and for America, too," says William Lathem, spokesman for the Southern Heritage PAC in Atlanta.
Indeed, beneath the ceaseless skirmishes over Southern symbols lurks a deeper debate over the potency and potential of a region shaped by Scots-Irish settlers who wanted a small, God-fearing government that stayed out of their lives.