I live in a small town in East Alabama. We have several monuments in our city. They are pretty cool to look at. One is a monument placed in honor of an Air Defense Unit that deployed from our city here during WWII. The tallest, biggest, grandest statue is in the absolute busiest intersection of the entire city. It is imposing as it looks back down the main thoroughfare through downtown. It was placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy back many years ago
I remember seeing it for the first time when I was a kid. When I was younger, that statue was bigger than life. It was the biggest I had ever seen. I was about nine years old. This was during the ‘70s when integration of schools and busing was first happening. My mom and dad had a talk with me about integration and what to expect. It was very calming to me that they completely disavowed what I had heard others saying. I had noticed that other adults seemed to have a very opposite message and seemed very open about it. I remember my dad explaining to me that sometimes you just needed to let people vent and say whatever they need to say, and that to reply back would make it a fight. I learned, over time, to keep my mouth shut too. It just wasn’t worth it.
As I drive by this big Confederate Monument today, yesterday, and probably tomorrow, I think about my friend Paul. He was my best friend in third grade. We played ball together, catch, just me and him most days at recess. He was black……… he was just like me. We liked that same girls together but we had both been told by our dads that the only rule was we couldn’t have a girlfriend of the other color. I thought it was funny that our parents gave us the same rule. He and I talked about racism and wondered why it had to be this way. We promised that we would always get along. We made third grade promises. He never came over to the house. We were never on a team together. My mom never knew his mom. I have no idea what happened to Paul next year. He just wasn’t at school.
One day, I remember asking Paul about that statue in Eufaula that I had seen. The one that celebrated the Civil War. He knew the exact one I was talking about. We agreed that we thought that monuments to the Civil War were not good things to celebrate. Of course, that was our third grade logic. I miss you Paul!