Half Past the Month
by Craig Ladwig
I may be hypersensitive to the plight of 79-year-old Charlotte Martin, who lost her position last week with a county political party. The Indianapolis Star, you see, found out she was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
It is easy for me to imagine that generations from now my great-great-grandaughters, should they have joined a Daughters of the Vietnam War, will be similarly shamed for being my descendants, linked by ancestry to another “Lost Cause ideology.”
That’s the term the Star uses for those linked by blood to the Confederacy, hinting strongly that the Hendricks County woman belonged to something more nefarious than a mere ancestry group.
It may be true that some in Mrs. Martin’s group have read the carefully crafted essays of John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, Robert Penn Warren and others of the Agrarian School of the southern literary tradition (the Lost Cause ideology). It was a group of novelists and poets who sought to expand understanding of the antebellum South beyond a simplistic “people there owned slaves.”
Mrs. Martin, though, protests that she is not working to restore slavery, the Confederacy or anything but the memory of her ancestors.
Before publishing their exposé of Mrs. Martin, the Star editors had compiled a list of Indiana historic statuary lest vandals be unfamiliar with the territory here. The headline read, “Six Indiana Statues that Stir Controversy.”
At the top was “the Pioneer Family,” commissioned in 1924 from Myra Reynolds Richards, somewhat of a feminist for her time. The cast bronze nuclear family of four keeps watch in Indianapolis at Fountain Square, the mother striding forth carrying a book assumed for all these years to be the Bible.
But no, ArtSmart, which presumes to interpret Indiana art for our school children, has tried to soften the offense of the thing by insisting that the mother is carrying not a Bible but a nondescript tome “attesting to her ability to read.”
It never ends, does it?
And on the chance that spray-painting youth might be short of inspiration, the Star provided this historic shorthand: “Some might consider it (the statue) an insult against the first residents of Indiana, once considered home to the Potawatomi, Miami, Shawnee and other tribes. Many of those Indians were later forcibly removed from the state from 1830-1846.”
I am looking now at the “Pioneer Certificate” on the wall of my study made out in the name of my great-great-grandfather. Was he by his mere existence on the Great Plains culpable in the forcibly removal of Native Americans?
I suppose that is so if you put aside the knowledge that the Potawatomi, Miami and Shawnee had forcible removed the earlier occupants. But did he have a choice? Read William Hintzen’s “The Border Wars of the Upper Ohio Valley” if you want an idea of what it was like to live next to the Native Americans of the time.
There are members of my family who want me to take down the certificate. They can see where all this is heading — in the direction of Charlotte Martin and ignominy. But it’s too late. Next to that certificate is another, this one recognizing me as a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, an ancestry group linked to a possibly even more controversial war.
There’s not room here for all you can learn about American history as a member of such organizations. I recommend Paul Johnson’s magnificent “History of the American People.” He relates the rules that my pioneer ancestors lived by, rules that Johnson says produced “the most remarkable people the world has ever seen.” He quotes the official U.S. State Department policy at the time. It is written by John Quincy Adams, one of many many early Americans apocalyptically opposed to slavery or any other oppression:
“The American Republic invites nobody to come. We will keep out nobody. Arrivals will suffer no disadvantages as aliens. But they can expect no advantages either. Native-born and foreign-born face equal opportunities. What happens to them depends entirely on their individual ability and exertions, and on good fortune.”
The genealogy of many Hoosiers includes entries such as indentured servants put to work on the early plantations or German-speaking immigrants during the First World War required to carry identification marked “Enemy Alien.” It will not matter that none of them ever owned a slave or came within bow shot of a Native American.
Oh yes, I almost forgot . . . the supposedly Confederate-conspiring Mrs. Martin, a progressive Democrat and a former school teacher, says she marched with Martin Luther King, helped integrate her public schools and voted for Barack Obama.
So none is safe. We can be lumped together by heart, mind, blood or innocent association into a single category of hateful bigots. And having nobody in public office or in the media to stand up for us, we must accept that slander.
That includes demeaning labels for those who did their duty with courage and valor in wars long ago — fought and died for complicated reasons that soft-headed, morally puffed up editors care not explore.
Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.