Reminders of our shameful past

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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Dear friends,

The statues placed in our parks, libraries, military posts, and other public areas should represent heroes of our society and notables whom we respect. Certainly members of the Confederacy are not our proud historical leaders, and I firmly agree with removal of these statues. But I do not agree with their destruction. Slavery, the Civil War, and the Confederacy were significant, however shameful, parts of U.S. history.

I strongly believe these sculptures should be preserved in museums as a reminder of our "white nationalism" deviation from the Constitution. Unfortunately, our history books never adequately revealed our checkered past — our cruel treatment of Native Americans, our centuries of racism, and the effects of slavery.

We cannot relive or alter that ugly history, but we can learn from it, and hopefully stop a present-day repeat of this behavior. Our 2020 society does not represent a nation devoted to equal representation for all under the law. One person, one vote is not afforded to all, and strangers are unwelcome in our land as we forget our own backgrounds as descendants of strangers.

I believe being reminded of our past is the way in which we establish a "just" society under the guidance of our Constitution. Without that history, we will surely fall prey to autocracy (like Trump's leadership) instead of our democracy. Holocaust museums are examples of society gone mad when not curbed by educating people about the past.

Perhaps today's massive protests will alert our nation of our past mistakes and set us on the correct course to civil rights for all.

Let us use those Confederate statues as reminders of a shameful past, and a hopeful, reformed future.

Harriet Hausman

River Forest

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Reader Comments

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Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 16th, 2020 7:33 PM

Oak Park is bipolar on the truly bad actors who've lived here. When I was at OPRFHS Mr. Tom Tegge had a German emigre janitor come in and speak about his experiences on the Russian Front. He had been there, but he forgot to tell us that he wasn't part of the German Army.. He served with the Waffen SS as a volunteer. After being wounded, he was sent to be a Death Camp Guard. That meant he had entered the US illegally and he was deported. Yet many Oak Parkers of liberal persuasion thought he should be given a second chance here. Figure that one out.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: July 16th, 2020 1:44 AM

Emendation: Oak Park - broad lawns, narrow minds, Confederate hub. A few more "Oh, us poor put upon white people.." posts and we may be able to move up from hub to axis.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 10:37 PM

My ancestors immigrated from Holland and Germany in 1910. They had nothing to do with slavery. How much would I have to pay? Shouldn't only the ancestors of slave owners have to pay?

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 9:13 PM

Back to Reparations bookkeeping. How would Condaleeza Rice fare? According to Professor Gates' research on PBS' "Finding Your Roots" she's 51% Black, 40% European and 9% Asian or Native American. This smart, talented woman (a female Secretary of State and first female member of Augusta National Golf Club) would be paying out of her right pocket into her left, for a small net and unneeded gain. Have any of the proposers of Reparations thought things through? The Treaty of Versailles imposed stiff reparations upon the Germans. Remember how well that worked? A nobody ignoramus nutcase took advantage of the dissent and nearly destroyed Western Civilization.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 8:53 PM

let me correct my numbers on reparations. The US GDP is in the neighborhood of $17 TRILLION. A QUADRILLION has 15 zeros after the 1. It's sixty years of national output. The numbers are so big they're baffling.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 8:41 PM

Oak Park - broad lawns, narrow minds, Confederate outpost.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 7:26 PM

Fair point, Neal. Frankly, I'm a big believer in all laws going through the process of challenge, so it gets settled. But then, that would take Congresses with the guts to actually pass laws.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 6:29 PM

William, well stated. My point is the founding fathers were silent. I think they were silent because there was no consensus.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 6:14 PM

On a side note, Neal, the legality of secession has never been adjudicated, and therefore never established in law.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 5:54 PM

As a side note, it wasn't illegal to succeed from the union of states. Staying in the United States of America was voluntary until Lincoln said it was not. The founding fathers were silent. Rumors have existed there was a secret agreement to keep issue open.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 3:09 PM

Brian Slowiak: Let's consider the proposals for "reparations". How would the accounting be done for that? Barack Obama had no slave ancestors. Colin Powell had Jamaican slave ancestors, so bill the British. He's distantly related through his White side (many Blacks are part White) to George Dubya. We'll get into distinctions such as mulatto, quadroon, and octaroon and high yella and the New Orleans Brown Paper Bag Test. Two members of the Township Board came directly from Africa and one of them because of his high born status may have had ancestors involved in the Slave Trade, I'm sure he would condemn that.. My ancestors fought for the Union. But the of course I gained '"White Privilege" after "No Irish Need Apply" faded. It reeks of what is known as "corruption of blood" -- the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons unto the fourth generation and all that Biblical nonsense. That's why Jesus proclaimed "The New Law"'. The "Old Law" was ridiculous. Who's supposed to pay? Asian Americans who have university admissions quotas placed on them because they're too smart and hard working? We'll pay through higher taxes and that is an indirect ex post facto law -- people held liable via legislative fiat because they.are a member of a class. Here's a case study. The terminus of the underground railroad was Canada. Are the descendants of those survivors better or worse off than American Blacks who had slave ancestors? Answer: About the same or maybe worse, and that has been pointed out by Black critics of the idea of reparations. This comes up every generation. Google it and you'll find that some professors value the claims in the neighborhood of a quadrillion dollars. That's 12 zeros behind the one.The US GDP is around $17 Billion. Get real, folks.

Christopher Goode  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 3:09 PM

"Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition." -Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy. Now Kevin, I want you to tell me how primary reason the southern states tried to illegally seceed from the country, how soldiers and politicians, and even one former US president (John Tyler) disavowed oaths they had taken, and started the Civil War by firing upon a US military installation, and this was not about slavery and subjugating African-Americans, but about other things, like States Rights or Northern Aggression, or some other nonsense. William Dwyer is absolutely right on in his statement below.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 2:52 PM

@Kevin: yes, Judge Ginex.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 10:50 AM

Kevin, you are the deep well of information and intelligence that I drink from. I cant imagine that you would have been a Tory. You would have fled to Canada, our great loss, and you don't skate well enough to be a Canadian.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 15th, 2020 12:31 AM

Brian Slowiak; Here'a partial answer. Jefferson became Ambassador to France and John Adams the same to England. They were at opposite ends of the political spectrum but were also friends. In one of those PBS documentaries I learned that Jefferson came across the Channel to visit. They made a trip to Shakespeare's house, which had been turned into a museum. They each used pocket knives to carve mementos from one of his chairs.Judge people by the standards of their times. Teddy Roosevelt killed as many American Bison as he could before declaring them off limits. These people weren't saints and we won't be viewed as that either. I thought JFK was a virtuous idol when I was a schoolboy. I didn't know about the dalliance with Marilyn Monroe. Back to our own "treasonous" revolution: I probably would have been a Tory. The gripe was about paying taxes for British protection against Indians and the French?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 14th, 2020 11:59 PM

The signers of The Declaration of Independence were treasonous to the Crown. The Crown never commuted/pardoned them and I don't know yet if any of them ever sat foot in England. Did any envoy ever set foot in England? Did the envoy if any take up arms against the Crown? The search starts now.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 14th, 2020 8:29 PM

Bill Dwyer: Judge Ginex

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 14th, 2020 7:28 PM

Awwww, way to defuse me, Kevin- bring up good memories. Strangely enough, I'm working on a story that involves that very judge who nearly made you know who wet his pants at sentencing. Different case. . . Anyways, enjoy the rest of your summer.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 14th, 2020 6:27 PM

Bill Dwyer: Did the South start the Civil War? Fort Sumter was in their view not U.S. property but an outpost of another country in South Carolina. I'm not taking their side; one of my Irish ancestors fought in Sherman's army. The Union was the first to invade hostile territory in a significant way. Lee's two failed attempts to invade the North were not to conquer it or get it to surrender but to get it to quit the fighting. As to the power of economic rationales for the South to attempt to secede, the South had a subsistence agrarian economy, where only cotton, and to a much lesser extent tobacco, were its only cash crops. The North had a burgeoning industrial base. The South could not buy cheaper and better manufactured goods from Britain because of prohibitive protective tariffs imposed by the Northern dominated Congress. Plus there was a smug morally and intellectually superior attitude of the North that was resented. Slavery was not only cruel and inhumane but also economically inefficient. Opposition to it became the rallying point for the North only later.My point has been that this has been the most complex and divisive issue in our history and cannot be simplified into a Junior Classics Illustrated comic book Sherman destroyed many of the railroads, warehouses and granaries of the Deep South, hurting both Blacks and Whites in the aftermath. That was the time for reparations -- a Marshall Plan before its time. Not having that was the greatest failure of the Civil War. Senator Lindsay Graham may have it right -- any South Carolina merchant who flies a Stars 'n' Bars is slitting his own throat in today's world. That's why he encourages people to move on of their own volition. You take on Brian Slowiak also. We all sat together at a certain trial of an Oak Park activist once, where the Judge admonished us for talking in the back row. We three should get together for a Belgian Ale someday like Obama, gates and that Cambridge cop.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 14th, 2020 10:57 AM

I have a recommendation for what you can do with your sense of superiority Kevin. If you don't like what you're reading here, you should move on yourself. My last comment here on this thread is simply that the Civil War was about much more than grammar; it was very much about interpretation. And the south did its damn best to obsfucate and spin things after the fact. They didn't just attempt to "secede," they launched an unprovoked attack on a US military installation. And they didn't kill hundreds of thousands of US soldiers just to maintain an economic system, they killed to maintain a system that enslaved human beings. The north, as best I can tell, did not fight the Civil War primarily to end slavery. But the South most certainly DID start the Civil War in an attempt to preserve slavery.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 13th, 2020 11:25 PM

A historian once remarked that the Civil War was really about grammar -- should it be "The United States ARE" (the Southern position) or "The United States IS" (the Northern).The North won the grammar battle. The South viewed the United States as a voluntary grouping, and did not feel they were launching a Civil War,, but merely seceding from a revocable agreement. They did not view themselves as traitors. Lincoln was an abolitionist, but he would have kept slavery if that could have preserved the Union -- until the Union "victory" at Antietam. The Emancipation Proclamation freed no one -- it applied only to uncontrolled territory. The 3/5 of a person for Blacks in the Census was a compromise. The South wanted 100% for more representation in the House, the North wanted zero. Lincoln offered pardons to many Confederates if they laid down their arms and re-swore allegiance to the United States. Andrew Johnson extended this to 14 different circumstances, and most former Confederates abided. Robert E. Lee, who worked for reconciliation, was one of the few denied. Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK, later denounced what it had developed into. Most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves, but feared the economic competition of free Blacks. But then so did the Irish Catholics who rioted in New York against the draft in 1863. The ignorance in these pages is astounding, Move on.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 13th, 2020 9:50 PM

Well all I can say I'm not going to get into a long winded argument here on a website. We plainly disagree with the meaning of the pardon clause itself (you clearly do not need an admission of guilt as I pointed out ... Nixon never admitted guilt nor was he ever charged; Johnson's case was a miscarriage of justice), the implications of the landmark ex parte Garland as well as the meaning of Burdick. No more no less. Have a good day.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 13th, 2020 8:51 PM

Really, Bruce. Go research the language used in the pardons for Confederate soldiers. And for Confederate officers. As for Burdick, I'm not an attorney, but as I understand it- it's not written in Greek, after all- without an admission of guilt by the pardoned individual, there is no legal effect of being pardoned. You have to acknowledge guilt. In any event, Brian wants to suggest that the traitorous scum who took up arms against the United States back in 1861 in defense of slavery weren't guilty of anything. He's wrong.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 13th, 2020 8:01 PM

Really Bill? Because Brian IMO happens to be mostly correct. One does not have to be formally charged nor convicted of a crime to be pardoned. This is called a preemptive pardon in accordance with ex parte Garland. The most famous recent preemptive full pardon in our nation's history was conferred upon Mr. Nixon by President Ford. At the time of the pardon, Mr. Nixon was neither charged nor convicted of a crime. And what about posthumous recipients of Presidential pardons? Are they still guilty of their original "crimes"? Is Jack Johnson still guilty of violating the Mann Act. Is Lt Flipper still guilty of thievery? Of course not. They were both exonerated by full Presidential pardons. That is what a FULL pardon is about. In fact, Burdick was about whether a person could decline a presidential pardon ? or not. (Yes they can). The Court discussed the implications of a pardon - presumed guilt - but in fact the Court did not rule as to whether acceptance of a pardon is the legal equivalent of a declaration of guilt. That was not the issue before the Court. And as far as I am aware, whether a pardon is a legal admission of guilt, has never been formally adjudicated by the Court. I could be mistaken. So if there is a Constitutional law expert out there reading these lay comments who would be willing to actually offer an expert opinion, it would be much appreciated.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2020 7:14 PM

All confederate statues need to go from all public places. Its pretty simple. There are fields full of headstones for USA Union soldiers who we dishonor by allowing them to stand. Those southern traitors may be part of our history, but they should not be part of our future.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 13th, 2020 2:38 PM

I'll try to make this as simple as I can, Brian, so you can understand. If, as you say, "All confederates were given a pardon after the war, they were not guilty of anything," you're just wrong. Because... concentrate here, Brian- if you are not legally guilty of anything, you need no pardon. And if you were guilty, and were pardoned, you're still guilty. Just pardoned for your guilt. .

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 13th, 2020 9:53 AM

I am sorry, it was Ira Hayes. It is very difficult to impeach a dead president, especially during war time. What is left out of this discussion are the African Kings who sold their own into slavery. The Polish Communists would not allow The Polish Catholics to march in public with their religious icons. The Polish Catholics marched with empty picture frames. The Polish Communists allowed the Polish Catholics to build a church., however they would allow no building materials for the church. The Polish mined a river bed for stone and built the church with materials on hand. Drive any group underground and they will survive and thrive. Who doesn't have a shameful act?If shame is the question, shouldn't Oak Park take out the cul du sacs along Austin Blvd? The cul du sacs were built to keep Chicago/Austin motorists from driving through Oak Park.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 13th, 2020 9:36 AM

Vast majority of confederate soliders were pardoned, commuted, let go free, and few taken into custody as to their war efforts read that to be Writz who ran Andersonvile Jefferson Davis was i9mprosened for a while. The purpose was to heal the country. Just because the Joint Chiefs of Staff say it is so, doesn't mean that it is so. There were an American who helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 11th, 2020 2:34 PM

Geez-Louise, Les. You may be the smartest human to ever reside in Oak Park, but you need to learn how to use sarcasm and irony.

Les Golden  

Posted: July 11th, 2020 12:25 PM

Furthermore, why are the Washington and Jefferson memorials allowed to announce to the world, with shameful pride, our racist past? Right by the Halls of Congress, where the representatives of the PEOPLE sit. These monuments to bigots should either be demolished or renamed, one after some prominent Native American, a woman, and one after some prominent black woman. Let them stand next to Lincoln, not Washington and Jefferson. I also get sick to my stomach when I see the Iwo Jima statue with the Caucasian faces lifting the flag. Didn't blacks die in WWII? Didn't they fight for freedom? Put the Iwo Jima statue in mothballs deep in some musky corner of the basement of some government building where the images of those white faces can experience what it felt like to be slaves.

Chris Weiler  

Posted: July 11th, 2020 12:08 PM

@Les Golden. As I read your posts, I keep thinking you are using sarcasm to highlight the absurdity and dangers of editing/cleansing/rewriting history. But as I get to the end of each post, I realize... "he's serious." This path is incredibly dangerous and opens the door to more oppression and abuse of power. In January, Netflix removed Gone With the Wind from its library. Currently, baffled and outraged middle and high school teachers in various states are commenting on the omission of the Jewish Holocaust in their newly issued history textbooks. A sitting president who regularly changes the meaning of words he uses to suit whatever narrative is important to him at that moment. Of course he is not alone in this practice. But, he is in the top leadership position and therefore, sets the subconscious tone for our society and social issues interaction. A practice of editing our past experiences that make us uncomfortable robs us and future generations of both learning from our past and using that knowledge to better inform future decisions. Ignorance will not be bliss, as we are (again) at the beginning stages of working through these social/human issues. I both think and feel it is important to look at any society and its history as a scaled up version of any relationship between people. We don't remove our embarrassing memories, as they are key ingredients that make up the authentic totality of who we are at this moment in time. This is not a reality TV show - it's life. Our development and evolution require the hard work and time, generation over generation to learn to better communicate with, relate to and tolerate each other, as we leverage our past mistakes to empower a better version of ourselves. Opposing this, is our society we have built for convenience and immediate gratification, which continue to offer the lure of quick fixes, like white-washing history.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 11th, 2020 11:25 AM

:Wrong again, former officer Slowiak. All confederates soldiers were guilty of treason and crimes against the United States. You cannot, legally, be "pardoned" if you did not commit a crime. See the Supreme Court decision in Burdick v. United States, that acceptance of a pardon carries an "'imputation of guilt' and is a confession to such guilt." Also no less a figure than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently accused Confederate officers of betraying their country and violating their oaths of service. Every confederate was a traitor to our Constitution and flag.

Les Golden  

Posted: July 11th, 2020 9:19 AM

All the U.S. presidents before Lincoln allowed the sin of slavery to flourish in the U.S. All fifteen of them should be impeached by the current U.S. Congress, led by the distinguished Ocasio-Cortez. Those fifteen presidents did little for this country except allow the lands of Native Americans to be taken, putting them into interment camps, and enslaving blacks. The history courses at OPRFHS should not discuss those shameful first 90 years of our country. Our country only acknowledged liberty for all after Lincoln freed the slaves in 1865. So, the American history courses at OPRFHS should begin in 1865. Instead of sections on the first 90 years, material on such as the Tuskegee Airmen should be substituted. Furthermore, President's Day should be abolished so that Washington is no longer discussed and renamed only after Lincoln and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 11th, 2020 8:42 AM

West Point, no pint.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 11th, 2020 8:41 AM

First off, no president before Lincoln could be charged with the "high crime and misdemeanor" for owning a slave because prior to Lincoln that wasn't an offense. I am surprised that Golden would make that mistake. Remove the statute from public land is a definite option. However, that just drives the opposition underground and unseen. Kitman. Kitman is a little known or used discipline of Islam that states if a believer considers himself oppressed, he may renounce Islam, ( a death sentence) work behind the scenes to overthrow their oppressor Hence the 9-11 hijackers could possibly consort with prostitutes and drink alcohol and not sin against the Koran.See also, the resistance fighters in country fighting from behind the Nazis. Much better to have the resistance marching in public so you know who they are. the knife in the back from you own is more painful than the frontal assault. The orange and black x flag of the confederacy (small c on purpose) is not the flag of the confederacy. All confederates were given a pardon after the war, they were not guilty of anything.Most Southerners were not slave holders . The Ken Burns Civil War special, this question was asked of a confederate solider, a non slave holder. why are you fighting. The response was I am fighting because the Union Army is down here in my home. Driving to Florida somewhere in Georgia, off the interstate there is a huge orange stars and bars flag flying on private property. No matter what a government bans the reason to oppose is stronger. That's why kids do drugs, everyone tells them not to, and kids know better, for now, maybe. The statutes will crop up on private land. You cant stop it. The officers who fought for the confederacy were probably all West pint graduates who served in The Mexican American War with distinction. Since pardoned there is no reason not to use their name. Take down the statute on public land and they will live forever, somewhere and no one can stop that.

Les Golden  

Posted: July 10th, 2020 7:29 PM

Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. Every copy, including the original at the Library of Congress, should have their names blacked out permanently, including Jefferson. In addition, those presidents, such as Jefferson, who owned slaves, should be impeached now by the U.S. Congress in a symbolic but meaningful gesture. If owning slaves is not a "high crime and misdemeanor," then nothing is!

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: July 10th, 2020 4:23 PM

Government should remove all Confederate statues. These generals (mostly) felt they had to support their state and not the federal government. They made an oath to the federal government and not their state to support and defend (current version).... The Confederate generals committed treason and should have been hung. All their statues should be torn down. All military bases named after Confederates need to be renamed too.

Chris Weiler  

Posted: July 10th, 2020 3:41 PM

@Harriet Hausman. I completely agree that our "... significant, however shameful, parts of U.S. history" should not be destroyed so they may serve as "... reminders of a shameful past..." However, I am conflicted about removing the statues at this time. I see this as a rebranding opportunity to change the conversation and the relationship to our past, present and future. The original location of these statues get the most eyeballs. Much greater numbers and cross-section of the population than the narrow bandwidth of those who frequent museums, where I feel their message will mostly be preaching to the choir. Solution 1: Keep the statues in place and rewrite their plaques/inscriptions. All such inscriptions could start with... "Never Forget!" Followed by the history/circumstances. "Here stands a reminder of..." Solution 2: Remove the statues and in their place erect something with a plaque/inscription that communicates the same sentiment as Solution 1. To evolve into a more tolerant, caring society, we need every opportunity to create and sustain new dialogue with one another. New ways of seeing our shared humanity. These statues or their replacements can be part of those opportunities. Done this way, we model to our youth the power of transformation. Something that once stood for intolerance and divisiveness, now stands for tolerance, hope, equity.

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