As Keri Leigh Merritt and Chris Richardson point out, the real American cancel culture has been and continues to be white supremacy.
Yet just as these biracial governments began to enact real change in the region, former slaveholders and their sons, increasingly aided by other Whites, began torturing and lynching Republicans, both Black and White, moderate and radical. In long-forgotten racist massacres like the ones in Hamburg, South Carolina and St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, armed Whites murdered thousands of Black men, women and children to overthrow these biracial Reconstruction governments, disenfranchising African Americans for generations. After former slaveholding Confederates and their heirs regained power, they passed laws establishing single-party White rule, imposing segregation and disenfranchising Black and even some poor White voters.
They popularized terms such as scalawags (literally a low-grade farm animal), carpetbaggers and poisoned generations of Americans against the notion that Black equality and White allyship could be the basis of better government. These Reconstruction governments proved that notions of White supremacy and Black inferiority – foundational concepts of our Republic – were all a lie and that made them radical, revolutionary and a threat. For that reason alone, Southern Whites would do whatever it took to not just overthrow them but erase them from history. Fearing memories of a brief past based on equality, it became imperative to adopt the “Lost cause” mythos and build as many statues as they could to honor the leaders who “redeemed” the South for whiteness.
Thus, men such as Alonzo Ransier, the first elected African-American Lt. governor of South Carolina, who led the effort to create public, universal education, died a forgotten street cleaner while Wade Hampton III and the racist Red Shirts, who led the violent overthrow of duly elected governments, have counties, schools, streets and monuments at the U.S. Capitol that bear their names. Even the Whites who allied with the ex-slaves had to be erased. Confederate General William Mahone, who allied with Blacks to run Virginia, and William Holden, the governor of North Carolina who used state troops against the Klan and was impeached for it, are not just forgotten but even vilified in our history books.
History does not need to be replaced, but it certainly needs to be reimagined and better known. Therefore, we should replace these statues with political revolutionaries such as former slave and U.S. Rep. Robert Smalls (R-S.C.). We must honor the memories of the Farmers’ Alliances, the Populists and the Fusionists. We must tell their stories so that our young people realize that change is not only possible, but that it has been done.