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Atlanta’s leaders are right . . . Don’t erase the Old South’s history!

Atlanta’s leaders are right . . . Don’t erase the Old South’s history!


A editorial opinion based on my perspective as a professional architect, city planner and urban designer

A city without history is like a zombie with amnesia . . . lost in time and space.

Textbooks in the United States are not telling the true and complete history of the “Old South” . . . just caricatures of a handful of politicians and generals, who are also seen in the statues that dot cityscapes.  The textbooks are saying too little about the people’s history.  Thus, demagogues, with aspirations of being America’s Hitler, are able to attract masses of Southerners with bogus history and delusional political beliefs.  On the other side of the political spectrum, people also treat their political beliefs as a religion, without really understanding the true history of the Southeast.

These same textbooks define Native Americans in terms of a few chiefs, a lot of broken treaties and the Trail of Tears.  After the Trail of Tears, the authors of history books assumed Southeastern Native Americans to be extinct.  Of course, there are very, very few statues of Native Americans in the Southeast, so we don’t have to worry about them being torn down. Nevertheless, we are stuck with the myths that our non-Native American neighbors believed to “gospel” truths. 

Like most of you Creek, Uchee and Seminole readers,  all of my gg-grandfathers fought in the Confederate Army.  Being hard-working yeoman farmers, they had no choice – unlike the sons of wealthy planters.  All of my Creek ancestors were in Cobb’s Legion, Army of Northern Virginia. They fought in all of the major battles of the Civil War in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.   This is the famous regiment featured in the movie, “Gods and Generals.”   Their regimental flag is now the official state flag of Georgia. For our tribes, the American Civil War is very much part of the Native American experience.

My Uncle Hal and I were in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, until the organization was taken over by fascists and began using the Nazi salute for saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  So . . . this essay is not by a dilettante talking about someone else’s heritage.

Approximately two weeks ago, the Atlanta History Center,  Central Atlanta Progress and Atlanta Chamber of Commerce issued a joint communique to their metropolitan area, urging government officials not to jump on the current bandwagon, seen in several cities in the Southeast, of tearing down 19th century statues of Civil War leaders.  The position of Atlanta’s leaders is that although these leaders represented the social values of their times, which may seem repugnant today, they are still landmarks that define that era.  They also add greatly to the quality of life in cities.  The civic leaders urged government officials to tell the complete history of the Atlanta Area with public art.

That is so true.  We need more statues and public art in Southeastern cities, not fewer. 

It started over a year ago, when the New Orleans City Council approved plans to remove statues of Southern Civil War leaders from lands owned by the city.   The tourism industry, architects and city planners in Louisiana should have raised heck about this plan, but stayed strangely reticent . . . not wanting to appear racist.   Neo-Nazi’s seized on the issue by saying that removing the statues was stealing their White, Southern, Christian heritage.  Their involvement made it impossible for more rational thinkers in New Orleans to cool down leaders of New Orleans African-American community.  It became a football game like almost everything else these days.  History and politics wedded to become a pseudo-religion. 

At that point,  tearing down Robert E. Lee’s statue became a symbolic lynching of “white history” to get revenge for all the atrocities committed by white Louisianans against blacks at the past.  What did they get in its place?  In their minds they perceived the destruction of public statues as great victories for “civil rights.”  What they actually received were a lot of bills to pay and holes in their once picturesque landscape.  Tourists are not particularly interested in being photographed next to holes.  The result was a big dent in their municipal budget that could have paid for at least three statues honoring the city’s rich African-American heritage.  The cost of removing the statue, putting up security fencing, blocking traffic and providing 24/7 police security was astronomical.  But again, this was all about the 21st century America’s pseudo-religion, known as “our side has to win”  . . . not about a rational way to beautify a city.

In regard to the public arena, what African-American leaders need to concentrate on is sponsoring public art that will inspire their children to follow in the footsteps.   Most likely, few citizens in New Orleans would complain if the city started a program of sponsoring a statue of a famous African-American a year on the median of St. Charles Avenue.  The program would also create income for local artists. 


Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, VA was called Lee Park from 1917 to 2017.

What to do about Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, VA

Thanks to the traumatic events of this past weekend there is now too much blood shed and hatred sown, just to do nothing.  Tearing down Robert E. Lee’s statue, as planned, would be a crime against civic art.  It is not destruction of Southern history as claimed, because Lee is one of the few Southerners, who is consistently mentioned in American history books.  Lee could not bear the thought of waging war against his relatives, neighbors and friends.  After Abraham Lincoln announced plans to invade Virginia with a 100,000 man army,  Lee declined the offer to command that army and instead was offered a staff job with the Confederacy.  Lee did not take command of the Army of Northern Virginia until Federal troops were about to capture Richmond in 1862.

Paul Goodloe McIntire (1860-1952) was a Charlottesville boy, who became a multi-millionaire trading stocks and commodities on Wall Street.   He was a principal donor to the University of Virginia, but in 1917 also purchased a city block to be a park to house a magnificent statue of Robert E. Lee.  The Charlottesville City Council recently voted to change the name of the park from Lee Park to Emancipation Park and to remove this large, beautiful statue of Robert E.  Lee.

As the reader can see above,  the park is already divided into many segments.  It is ideally suited to tell the complete story of slavery and the American Civil War.  There is plenty of room to install statues or sculptures that honor all of the participants in history.  The story should include the anonymous young privates and sergeants on both sides, who had nothing to gain from the war, but did the bulk of the dying.  Terrorist victim Heather Heyer’s memorial should be placed at the foot of Robert E. Lee’s statue so all will remember that terrible day.

George Thomas is considered by many historians as the most competent general in the Union Army in the Civil War.  David Faragut is considered the Union’s ablest admiral.  Both men were from Virginia and both men were persecuted by Abraham Lincoln because they were Southerners.  Their statues should be in this park, too because their families disowned them when they remained loyal to the Union.

Teaching myths to generations of Southerners

Thanks to our history books being used to create a mythological South that never existed and apparently a general incompetence among many political science teachers, we have produced a large number of Americans, who have a delusional understanding of the world.  That was quite evident in Charlottesville this past weekend.  The Rightwing marchers literally said that the enemy in the war they are fighting are the “Marxist liberals.”  Their goal is “to return America back to the conservative government of our founding fathers.”  “Marxist Liberals” is an incredibly stupid oxymoron.  Hitler and Lenin both hated Liberals.  The word is the Anglicization of the Latin word, which means “those who free slaves.”    Most of our founding fathers were Liberals.  The remainder were Radicals.  Their enemies were the Conservatives, who were typically called Tories.

To illustrate how ignorant, people in the United States about the history of the Southeast, we will close with a list of facts, which are well documented, but never seen in public school history books.

(1) Prior to the Civil War, Georgia was the most socialistic (Marxist) state that ever existed in the Union.  The state constructed and owned the railroads and canals.  Georgia still owns most of the principal rail right-of-ways.  The state was the real estate developer and land planner for most of large towns built on former Creek Indian lands.  The state owned manufacturing plants and most of the major roads.  The state was a part owner in many manufacturing plants.  The state owned the docks in Savannah, Darien and Brunswick back when such things were privately owned in the rest of the world. 

(2) Charleston and Savannah were the only ports in the United States open to Irish immigrants during the Great Potato Famine.  Southern communities and the Choctaw Tribe sent large quantities of food to aid the Irish, while England was intentionally starving them.  A very high percentage of enlisted Confederate soldiers from Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia were first generation Irish-Americans. 

(3) Summing up all the states below the Mason-Dixon Line,  the majority of Southerners (white men, of course) voted against Secession.

(4) The citizens of Georgia voted against secession in a plebiscite.   Secessionists ignored the vote and bribed state legislators into seceding.

(5) Many North Alabama, North Georgia and East Tennessee counties formed pro-Union militias when their states seceded.  General William Sherman’s army would have been defeated in several battles and probably not taken Atlanta without the critical assistance of Pro-Union Georgia militia cavalry units, who were issued Union uniforms by Sherman.  It is strongly suspected that Tennessee Union cavalry also made possible the capture of Knoxville and Chattanooga by Union troops.

(6) The vast majority of neo-Nazis and KKK members in Alabama and Georgia live in counties that were pro-Union in the Civil War and even today have very few African-American residents.  It is so ironic to see young Billy Bobs riding around with Confederate Battle Flags on their pickups in counties, where they would have been shot on sight for such an offense in the Civil War.

(7) Jews and Native Americans were generally not allowed to be officers in the Union Army, whereas they were commonplace among the Confederate officer corps.   Jews were not allowed to serve in higher positions in the United States government, whereas two of the most powerful men in the Confederacy were Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin and Senator David Levy of Florida.  All members of the Five Civilized Tribes were declared citizens of the Confederacy and had the right to elect members of the Confederate Congress.  The United States would not give this right of citizenship until the 1920s.

(8) Members of a special elite platoon of cavalry, who were supposed to escort the Confederate gold reserve and President Jefferson Davis to South Georgia, disappeared shortly before he was captured.  As soon as the war ended, the unit’s officers began buying up vast tracts of prime bottomland in the Georgia Mountains and southeastern Tennessee.  That’s why “the Confederate gold disappeared.”

(9)  Southern armies lost far more men to desertion than combat deaths. 

(10) By the last year of the Civil War, there were more white Southerners in the Union Army than in the Confederate Army.

(11)  The last Confederate unit in the field was the Cherokee and Creek Mounted Rifles.  It never really surrendered . . . just went home.  Its commanding officer was Colonel Stand Watie (Cherokee), who was born in Pine Log, GA.  Its second in command was Major Chillie McIntosh (Creek) who was born near Carrollton, GA.   Both of their fathers and several of their brothers had been executed for signing treaties that ceded all tribal lands and moved their respective tribes to Indian Territory.  Both of these men also signed the treaties, but were able to escape execution.

And now you know!




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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Impartial historians, now state that 40,000 Negros, free & Slave fought as CSA combat troops. another 100,000 as support personnel, In Richmond VA is a JEWISH Confederate cemetery section. Myers or Meyers, a Jew was quartermaster General for Confederacy. 100 slaves of NB Forrest rode with him as armed cavalrymen. (wow they hated & were so terrified of him, that they could not execute their master!!.) There is on-line a site of the CSA vet pension apps of Negros from Tenn, with affidavits by the whites that served with them. The federal government still denies most of all that.

    • Absolutely true! History is not nearly as simple as the textbooks make it.


      Abba Hawk, what does the Abba in your name mean and from what language is it if you don’t mind my asking. Thank you.


        Abba is Hebrew or Aramaic for affectionate father from Ab=father (e.g. Absalom father of peace, Abraham etc.. My late son was Sterling Little Hawk, named for his maternal grandfather Wm J. Bryan Hawk Eager (history lesson right there!). So in his memory I use Abbahawk as a handle.


    Thank you for your reasoned opinion, Richard. Most appreciated.

    • You are quite welcome. I tired of right and left extreme views screwing up this country.


    Hey Richard,
    What most people today do not understand about that time is most people were more loyal to their state than the country.
    Washington was a long way from them and unlike today, most of the government was at the state level. Like your ancestors, mine were farmers and tradesmen that fought more for their state, and yes blacks fought on both sides by their own choice. When history like this is buried there are NO lessons learned. The history of the United States has many bad chapters, but if we learn from them and not bury them we will be a stronger people. Thanks for getting this information out there so hopefully will not repeat it.

    • Amen brother. Once people get in the habit of changing history to suit the political agenda, we humans lose their direction.


    Thank you for this detailed history Richard. Now people will sit up, listen and learn. I also enjoyed reading comments from your other readers.


    Excellent article. I posted it on my Facebook page and tweeted a link to POTUS.


    Robert E Lee owned a lot of slaves, whom he inherited on condition that they be emancipated. He had a difficult time emancipating them, dragged his feet, zealously tracked down runaways.

    • I believe you are right. I have found references stating both. He definitely inherited slaves, but the Virginia source I used for this article said that Lee freed the slaves, but several stayed at Arlington House. There is another source that says he did not free all the slaves. The Confederate Capitol Museum in Richmond says that he had no slaves during the time of the Civil War and at a fairly early date was pushing to free young male slaves, who agreed to fight for the Confederate Army.


      most sources say he &/or his father were such poor businessmen that they lost all their slave. That he brought none with him to marriage. that “his” slaves were actually his wife’s. How to know now. There is or was at Balto Historical lib, a photo of his groom/horse handler in CSA uniform at CSA reunion, signing Dixie. Also CSA cabinet had 2 more Jews, Benjamin P. Judah & De Leon .
      Want a valid example of racial hatred? The federal government provided markers for Union soldiers, whites & coloured. later same for CSA WHITES only. The federal govt in its arrogance & low opinion of the IQ of “Negroes” refuses to admit that ANY slave or free coloured, served the CSA .
      Maybe because it is stated that the first Union officer killed was at 1st Bull Run was by a Free Negro Sharpshooter, according to statements by the 2 white snipers with him in their squad.


    As a historian, I’ve been forced to think about the Confederate statue issue and it has caused me to reflect on the views of both sides. You see, I have a duality of perspective having former slaveholders/ Confederate soldiers on my mother’s side of the family and Native-Americans on my father’s side of the family. My father was almost 100% Native-American and the family most closely associates with the Lumbee Indian Tribe or the Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe in North Carolina. If you look at a picture of my father or grandparents, you would think that they were African-American. In fact, in North Carolina, that’s how Native-Americans were classified in my father’s time and they were treated as such. His family had to put land in his name so that he could go to the “white” school. My mother’s family launched an investigation to prove that his family was African-American in an effort to stop them from marrying. That said, I have lived in the south most of my life, participated in a number of Civil War re-enactments (48th New York), buried real African-American Union Army soldiers in Beaufort National Cemetery and actually restored a Confederate Monument.

    I passed by no less than three (3) Confederate monuments today. In South Georgia where I live, basically every County Seat has a Confederate monument. I’ve seen them so much that I hardly notice anymore. I wish that I could say that they provide some lesson, or future lesson, about our past that would educate about the folly of owning slaves, rebellion and war. However, there are no lessons being taught, no context to put them into perspective. They are instead a reminder of a “white” past, where Confederate re-enactors gather to glorify a time gone by on various Confederate holidays.

    Perhaps, if they just were a silent reminder in marble and metal there would be no controversy today. Many monuments, however, were placed in the era of Jim Crow, in the time of a resurgence in the KKK when thousands of hooded figures marched in Washington D.C., New York and other major cities. A time when, in almost every major town, lynchings still took place. Flash forward to the time of integration when Georgia changed its flag in 1956 to include the Confederate Battle Flag as a sign of protest. While that flag was replaced in 2001, we still have inspirations of the Confederate First National Flag on the current design.

    This brings us, I believe, to the main reason that there is a call to remove the Confederate memorials: The use of Confederate Flags to promote anti-semitism, racism and the alt-right. While true, that the use of these flags is nothing new, what is new, however, is their widespread use and visibility in everyday life. On Corridor Z (U.S. Highway #82) that runs through South Georgia, I’ve seen the more Confederate Flags than on any other highway. Many are just the simple Confederate Battle Flag (some even large Garrison flags), but most are the 1956 Georgia State Flag that has its roots in racism. I’ve often wondered what visitors, African-Americans and others must feel like looking at those while travelling down that highway. Welcome? Equal? In all my life, until recently, I cannot recall seeing parades (yes, literally, planned parades) of pickup trucks full of Confederate Battle Flags and Georgia State Flags. Celebrating history, celebrating Southern Heritage (whatever that means) or, celebrating racism?

    While the general public has no control of what others do as part of their freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, they can control (through their local governments) what become of the most visible public signs of a slave holding past that cannot be forgotten because reminders of it are flown in their faces daily. I do not advocate the destruction of these monuments and was disturbed by the destruction of the memorial in Durham recently. It was reminiscent of what became of monuments at the end of other lost wars and the toppling of governments, only these monuments were created many years after the loss, many as a sign of defiance.

    While their removal or relocation is a local issue, without context they have become (or remain) visible focal points for a racist past (and future, if good people do nothing). Better they be removed to a cemetery or battlefield where they can be interpreted than displayed on the public square to be a symbol of a failed dream of racial harmony and equality that so many have given their lives for and a rallying point for those that advocate racism.


    Richard, would you mind commenting or reposting if you already have, any information on the Choctaw code talkers in WWI? Another well kept secret. Thank you for your wonderful interest in history and in setting records straight!

    • ACTUALLY!!! The father of a dear Choctaw friend of mine, Geraldine Choate Coleby, WAS a Choctaw Code Talker. He was still alive, when I was in my late 20s. I will see if I can dig up the article.


    Excellent article.. Yes! It’s complicated!

    So rather than take down statues, just place something nearby to BALANCE it, from African American or Native American or just popular culture that is not related to the Civil War.

    Perhaps we could simply ADD statues of other Heroes or famous people of Southern history, e.g., Some early influential figures of Creek history or colonial history, Oglethotpe, C.C. Jones, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Osceola, Francis Marion, William Walker or Sehoy, Hey, how about the “Lady of Cofetachiqui” , or Pocahontas. One good example of a much needed statute/ memorial is something to honor the nearly extinct Apalachee tribe who have been terribly mistreated by multiple parties.

    • That is exactly what I am talking about. Remember all the people, who participated in our past. We have enough statues of generals right now.


        what is wrong with what you have. I have never been to the “old south” , if I drive to FL, how will I know when I’m getting there if there are no signs of culture. the monuments are gone, the strip malls all look like the rest of the country, how really boring…. no need to go if it all looks like where I start from.
        I think the issue is a sign of demographics, the current generation has been culturally brain washed (see children’s media programming to know what they are being taught on tv, etc) to think this way. the current gen does not have a clue,… ask them a question about WW 2 or N Korea or Vietnam. they can tell you about “the little mermaid”. I was talking to a something, and he told me the Cuban Missle Crisis did not happen……, really?
        the issue, these washed children are coming of voting age and in the majority. they will have no cultural depth and vote in people who will not do what is necessary for the protection/etc. of the country and of course taking down Confederate statues, flags off of soldiers cemeteries, will fit the agenda. I hope the little mermaid can protect us all.


    According to the title, Mr. Thornton’s essay concerns how removal of monuments honoring the Confederacy erases the history of the American South. The essay isn’t focused enough topically, and the author jumps around hitting various points about how the history of the American South is distorted, omitted, or misunderstood. That particular point isn’t salient or surprising: There’s a lot of historical inaccuracy and ignorance in America, some of it even taught in U.S. public schools. However, he starts embarrassing himself when he gets deeper into the subject of removal of Civil War monuments.

    The main source of the embarrassment for the author is (or should be), ironically, Mr. Thornton’s own distortion of the motive and rationale of the mainstream civic leaders advocating for the removal of such monuments. He employs what’s known as the “Straw Man Fallacy”, weakly and inaccurately describing the opponents argument (i.e., constructing a straw man), for the purpose of knocking it down easily. One case he cites is the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in New Orleans earlier this year. Mr. Thornton says the following about this incident:
    – “… tearing down Robert E. Lee’s statue became a symbolic lynching of “white history” to get revenge for all the atrocities committed by white Louisianans against blacks at the past.”
    – “… they perceived the destruction of public statues as great victories for “civil rights.”
    – “The result was a big dent in their municipal budget that could have paid for at least three statues honoring the city’s rich African-American heritage.”

    These are not mainstream views of those advocating the removal of such statues. What is the rationale? Who better to look to for insight into that decision than the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu. Here’s the transcript of the Mayor’s speech given during the removal of the statue:

    Revenge? The Mayor states, “This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once.”
    A victory for Civil Rights? Landrieu says, “This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naïve quest to solve all our problems at once. This is however about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.”

    And, finally, “They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.”

    Rather than quote the speech here more, I urge you to read it. At the very least, to be informed about the arguments for removal of such monuments. I can’t imagine a more eloquent, cogent, and articulate statement on the subject. It’s not demagoguery. The speech is even-tempered, well-considered, factually-based and, frankly, inspirational and unifying – to those that are willing to be open-minded.

    Regarding the expense of removal? Two points come to mind: 1.) How can you put a price on removing a symbol of oppression that is an affront to so many, and 2.) The cost of maintaining public monuments is significant (I don’t have references, but they’re easy to find), so how can we justify the cost of maintaining monuments that are divisive?

    Finally, Robert E. Lee himself didn’t want Civil War monuments since he thought they would inhibit the nation from moving forward. Conservative columnist Rich Lowry sums it up nicely:

    • You didn’t read my article. You just thought of ways to make it seem that you were intellectually superior. I said that I agreed with the Atlanta History Center. Whether good or bad, don’t erase history. Just create more statues and more art that provide a balanced view of the past and present.


        this Anti-CSA hysteria is a disgusting insult to the 40,000 CSA Negro Combat troop. Notice those BLMers are not putting up statues to them. nor the 1000s of troops from the 5 Nations. So the question is, are those people appalling ignorant or extremely evil.? My Cajun cousins with Confederate ancestors, never made a claim to being “white” nor ,they said, did most Louisiana Confederates.,


    Hey Richard
    We already have a place to put all the confederate statues and other items here in Georgia…Stone Mountain..
    It would be a bigger tourist attraction than it is now. Let people come out and fly their stars and bars from their trucks,wear period clothes and do reenactments for a nominal fee.
    Teach about southern history and show how far we have come from those days. But I doubt any one would want to do that, some body would get their feelings hurt and want to sue the state. Oh well!


    removing a statue to racism doesn’t erase history, it just fine tunes what we should be celebrating or putting on pedestals. it sends the wrong message. Your essay is from a white person’s perspective. (i am white) How does a black mother or father explain to their children why a promoter of slavery is on a pedestal in modern day america? The statues can easily be moved to museums with full explanations on who these individuals were but they do not belong on pedestals. period. Germany has zero statues of Hitler.


      my stance is from a mestizo view, they can point to a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest & explain how he improved the lives and future of 1000s of slaves, by caring for them. how 100 of them rode with him as armed combat cavalrymen, How how he freed them mid war because he did not trust either government to do right by them.(wise view on his part), How they hated him so much for all that, that they forced him to be main speaker at the first Freedman’s convention in Memphis. & then add, how the fake-liberals & ignorant folks of any color refuse to understand reality & history. How all the fake-liberals in Northern government then& still now, refuse to allow military grave markers for Southern Confederate colored troops.


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