As many of you know, I am a graduate of the University of Virginia. I applied to UVA because I am an ardent fan of Thomas Jefferson (or Mr. Jefferson, as we say at the University) and his philosophy of government. I also fervently believe in the American Creed as defined by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
However, I am acutely aware Mr. Jefferson was the largest slaveholder in Albemarle County in the 1800s and he fathered three children with his slave (and wife’s half-sister), Sally Hemings. There is no doubt slavery was our nation’s original sin, and we live with its consequences still.
Like many Southerners, with old and deep roots in the South, my family’s history is complicated. On July 3, 1863, forty Nalls’—all of them my kinsmen—cheered Confederate Army Major General George Pickett as he trooped the Confederate line at Gettysburg and exhorted his fellow Virginians to strike the Union position on Cemetery Ridge for “old Virginia and Marse Robert.” (Marse Robert was one a General Robert E. Lee’s nicknames.) My great-great-great grandfather has a United Daughters of the Confederacy grave marker.
Like many white Southerners, my slaveholding ancestors left a very mixed heritage. I have relatives who suffer from blood disorders that are linked to the same genes that cause sickle cell anemia in African-Americans.
Yes, race in America is a complicated matter. In Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner wrote, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.” Faulkner, a gifted son of the South, knew exactly what he wrote. Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, where Confederate Civil War ghosts are “garrulous outraged baffled” (sic), haunts Faulkner, and us, still. Faulkner understood how race troubles us: Absalom, Absalom may be the finest novel ever written that takes on race and white supremacy.
Lisa Richardson, an editor at the Los Angeles Times, understands my predicament, and that of many of her fellow Southerners. In a recent OP-ED she writes: “I’m a black daughter of the Confederacy, and this is how we should deal with all those General Lees.” Ms. Richardson observes:
Blacks and whites will have different perspectives on their entwined history. War victory for my white great-great-great grandfather, Jeremiah H. Dial, who enlisted in the 31st Arkansas infantry regiment and was wounded in the battle of Stone River, Tenn., in December 1862, would have meant defeat for my great-great-great grandmother Lavinia Fulton and their daughter, Mary Ellen. Instead, Lavinia died a free woman, living to play with grandchildren and give thanks to God every Sunday in church in Birmingham, Ala. I thank God my great-great-great grandfather lost. Every right-thinking person should be glad he lost.
Here at the Nalls Sherbakoff Group, we take our responsibility to the Constitution seriously. Lee Sherbakoff and I have a combined sixty-one years of service to our nation, and Kim Spencer, one of our advisors, has a son who is a Major in the Air Force and serving on active duty. We take our responsibility seriously, and we model it in our behavior. So we agree with Ms. Richardson: the Confederate monuments should be moved to museums and there “tell the story of their lives. I would end their utility as flashpoints for racism and division, and, once and for all, allow them to retire from their long service as sentries over a whitewashed history.”
The arc of American history is toward justice, equality and rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” for our fellow Americans. All of them.