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A Tale of Two Cemeteries: A Call to Action

Howdy Neighbors,

This is an article a wrote a few years ago after the Mother Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston. I have waited to post this until close to Veterans’ Day.

My hope is that we follow Gov. Nikki Haley’s lead and find our common ground to honor all Veterans.

Here are also a few articles published featuring the work I am doing with local Veterans and organizations that care about moving forward regarding the bitter divide over monuments erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy:

https://www.glamour.com/story/the-secret-fight-to-save-confederate-monuments

https://www.salon.com/2018/10/06/7-things-the-united-daughters-of-the-confederacy-might-not-want-you-to-know-about-them_partner/

https://blog.seattlepi.com/capitolhill/2018/03/20/removing-seattles-confederate-memorial-united-daughters-of-the-confederacy-veterans-for-peace-and-a-museum-find-common-ground/

https://blog.seattlepi.com/capitolhill/2018/01/10/martin-luther-king-day-2018-and-united-daughters-of-the-confederacy-letters-to-seattle-mayor/

https://independentmediainstitute.org/make-it-right-project-announcement/

https://independentmediainstitute.org/make-it-right-project-puts-up-billboard-reminding-seattle-residents-of-confederate-monument-in-their-own-backyard/

https://blog.seattlepi.com/capitolhill/2018/10/30/hey-seattle-theres-a-confederate-memorial-in-your-backyard/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/time-to-expose-the-women-still-celebrating-the-confederacy

I may not agree with all of them on everything, but it’s silly to believe we will all always agree. It is civil to commit to personal relationships more than personal opinions. Special thanks to Kali Holloway of the Independent Media Institute and Charlette LeFevre, whose local activism in Seattle makes a difference for everyone.

As the great-great granddaughter of a Confederate soldier, I have seen idolatry of these monuments, flags, and symbols replace love for God, country, and family. America is but one of 267 nations on Earth, and we had all better strive for the Tim McGraw call to let ourselves feel that pride, but always stay humble and kind. I simply can’t say it better than his beautiful video that honors God and all His children:

While I will always have affection for the Southland, I will never teach that slavery was not a major issue within the American Civil War. It was.

Granted, it was not the only issue, and the South gets blamed for slavery when the whole wide world prospered from the chattel slavery that continues today in forms other than the Middle Passage. The answer is not more fighting and more monuments. The answer is in educating our youth about the American Civil War that we may prevent another one.

Honoring Veterans goes far beyond a monument. It is something we do in thought, word, and deed. Thanks for listening.

Heidi Christensen
Great-great granddaughter, Pvt. John James Rooks, Company B, 15th Cavalry, “Marianna Dragoons”, Wagoneer, Chipley, Florida CSA 1861-1865

#VetSafe #supercozy #TeamUSA #globalstandards

A Tale of Two Cemeteries
Heidi Christensen

“Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question…how does it feel to be a problem?” Dr. W.E.B. DuBois The Souls of Black Folk

Located in downtown Seattle, Lakeview Cemetery is a private resting site near the Space Needle. Within the resting site is a monument placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy #885 Robert E. Lee Chapter. During the eight years I was a member of the UDC #885, our monument was defaced. Someone stole the bronze pieces from the granite monument, which we replaced.

Located near the resting site of Martial Arts celebrities Bruce and Brandon Lee, the Confederate Monument has generated both disgust and dignity. It is understandable that people would justify removing such monuments from public places, but Lakeview Cemetery is private property. The Washington State Peace Arch State Park UDC #885 monument was removed during my tenure, as was the Highway 99 marker, which was formerly Jefferson Davis Highway. Given that these are public places funded by tax dollars, it is completely rational that such monuments would be removed. Sons of Confederate Veterans Portland, Oregon Camp #458 placed these monuments on private property in Jefferson Davis Park, https://scvpacnw.wordpress.com/jefferson-davis-park/ with no ire directed toward the Pacific Northwest public. Simply put, these monuments belonged on private property and they were so retired from the public purse.

I have since quit the United Daughters of the Confederacy, moved home to South Carolina, and witnessed what I have always known. All Southerners live in two worlds. We live in the world as it is, and in the world as we would like it to be. Sadly this kills us all too often. The Southeastern United States remains America’s most violent region, in part due to the legacy of brutality being ground zero for the international slave and indentured servant trade. The entire world profited from the Middle Passage, but only the Southeastern United States gets blamed. Perhaps this is a bad reputation we earn.

Yet we live in the world as it is, and many of us go to Wednesday night Bible Study. We welcome everybody, even if it breaks our comfort zone. Such was the case 18 June 2015, when Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina was brutalized by a terrorist. There is no other word for him, and I do him no honor by calling his name. Here are the beautiful South Carolina people whose hospitality was rewarded with murder by gun violence that night:

The Honorable Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney
Mr. Tywanza Sanders
Rev. Sharonda Singleton
Ms. Cynthia Hurd
Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor
Ms. Ethel Lance
Ms. Susie Jackson
Ms. Myra Thompson
Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.

They lived in the world as it was, carrying on with Wednesday night Bible Study. They lived in the world as they would like it to be, never knowing a stranger, welcoming a young man who ultimately claimed their lives. More odious than the kvelling over how forgiving South Carolina was over this nightmare is the idea that somehow Mother Emanuel AME Church is to blame for not having gifted each member with a loaded AR-15 to complete someone’s misguided vision of our Bill of Rights. Federal courts have already thrown out the lawsuit from the families of those perished, given that Federal laws failed to keep guns out of terrorist hands. Blaming the victim is the worst crime of all. This crime would not happen in an America that had more focus on trust and health than fear and paranoia. Anyone desperate to get their hands on a gun has no business near one. There is so much more to safety than a loaded gun, and those who violate gun safety rules make the case for those who would totally abrogate our entire Bill of Rights.

While I support the right to keep and bear arms, I support even more the responsibility to maintain a well regulated Militia through gun safety standards. Often gun control laws are the result of lacking gun safety. One could debate that only law abiding citizens will abide said laws, but it is also obvious that often times we make the case for the opposition by acting like a rodeo goat eating gun powder. Often private property being violated as was the Lakeview Cemetery UDC #885 monument is seen as civil disobedience for the hatred paraded in the name of heritage.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy knew that Military knowledge of every event leading to, within, and following the American Civil War was key to preventing future disasters. The Confederate States of America remains the United States of America’s most fearsome foe, having maimed and claimed more American lives than any other single foe thus far. This is not a precedent we would like broken. We prefer beating swords into plowshares than fighting over ensigns and past wars.

It is from knowledge of the many mistakes that caused the American Civil War that we can at last understand the true libertarian knowledge given through Sun Tzu in his Art of War, “The supreme form of generalcy is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

It would be easy to feel balkanized by the rude and condescending attitudes some Pacific Northwesterners hold toward folks from Southern states. Some of this ire we earn, and some is just plain mean. Yet I press forward, and came home and quit the UDC after they continued to refuse the application of Senator Strom Thurmond’s eldest child, Mrs. Essie Mae Washington Williams. When she died in 2013, I continued the fight. Miss Essie Mae’s daughter, Monica Williams Hudgens, was an associate member of the UDC #885 during the time her husband was stationed in Bremerton with the United States Marines. She refuses to pursue UDC membership for her own reasons. Strom’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren live all over America, and have all been subject to the all too familiar mistreatment too many African-Americans experience, especially when they seek to join an historical or genealogy society like the UDC.

The detail I have on this case is enormous, and to say the least, I would not lift a finger if someone defaced the Lakeview Cemetery monument again. The cold shoulder Miss Essie Mae and her kin were given after her stated request to join the UDC in her autobiography, Dear Senator, renders the UDC totally irrelevant to Planet Earth in general and to the Seattle community in particular. The UDC gives Miss Essie Mae no respect for wishing to honor her great-grandfather, George Washington Thurmond, who was present with General Robert E. Lee when he surrendered to General Ulysses Grant at the Appomattox, Virginia Courthouse 9 April 1865. I give her that respect by seceding from those who celebrate secession. While we all have pride in our heritage, it is well to seek a greater measure of humility. The definition of a cell seceding from the body is cancer. I have had enough of the UDC once and for all.

To their credit, The Sons of Confederate Veterans www.scv.org has been more inclusive of people of color, understanding that birth, marriage, and death certificates nor public records of any kind were kept on people of color before, during, or after the American Civil War. Mortgage records and sale records from public slave auctions are a cold reminder that public records only existed to prove when a person was acquired in slavery. Whereas the UDC denies membership without these documents, the SCV is more flexible.

Given that the requirement to join the SCV or UDC is to prove your ancestry to a Confederate soldier of Honorable Discharge who did not sign the Union’s Oath of Affirmation until or after 9 April 1865, admission for people of color becomes more complicated without public records, pension records, or muster roles. The reasons why people served in the CSA were surely many and complex, yet simple and few. Mostly it was a matter of either serving or being shot for desertion for people of color and those who were not land owning gentrymen. It is well to regard such Military matters as an objective matter of honoring all Veterans, and neither glorifying nor condemning the cause. The hope of studying Military history is that we will not repeat our mistakes. In the words of L. Ron Hubbard, there is no national conflict that cannot be solved by reason alone.

Back home in South Carolina, I remain happily occupied with the Thomson Lakeview Cemetery (TLC).

https://www.facebook.com/AbbevilleTLC/

Abbeville, South Carolina may be best known for its importance to neo-confederates.  
The Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbeville is where Jefferson Davis convened his final Council of War in 1865. Abbeville is also the home and resting ground of Alfred Ellison, the grandfather of author and journalist Ralph Ellison. Born Ralph Waldo Ellison in Oklahoma City in 1914, he published the Harlem Renaissance classic Invisible Man in 1952.   His grandfather, Alfred Ellison, who was the Town Marshal of Abbeville during Reconstruction, remains invisible except to one man.

Abbeville County Councilman Claude Thomas, a Vietnam Veteran and U.S. Postal Service retiree, initiated Operation Impact in 1994. He is the one man who leads volunteers to maintain TLC. Operation Impact mentors local youth, and also emphasizes the importance of community service. One important community service project is the cleanup and maintenance of the Thomson Lakeview Cemetery, located at the corner of Hammond and Vienna Streets downtown. The 6.5 acre site was controlled by a Board of Governors that included Alfred Ellison in 1897. Over 200 African-Americans born during the reign of slavery and after the terror of Jim Crow laws rest in Thomson Lakeview Cemetery. Claude Thomas has recently secured its inclusion in the Abbeville Historical Preservation district. Ownership of the property remains obscured to the legal deed recorded in 1897, where Alfred Ellison is listed as an owner. Republican Rep. Hutson J. Lomax is also recorded as an owner, and his resting site remains the most prominent within TLC.

South Carolina Code 6-1-35 makes provision for the municipal funding and maintenance of cemeteries, and Abbeville County recently funded limited maintenance of Thomson Lakeview Cemetery. About 200 local volunteers came out to clean up on Martin Luther King Day in 2014, but ongoing monthly maintenance remains a challenge. Stoic and even keeled, Councilman Thomas remains optimistic, “Our goal is to preserve this site for the generations. This is an important piece of American history.”

It is progress that Abbeville County recently allocated tax payer funds for maintenance of TLC. Necessarily when some of us hear progress, we see bureaucracy, yet let us all see unity in Abbeville County’s actions. Governor Nikki Haley finally removed the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Capitol after the Mother Emanuel AME Nine Saints were tragically murdered in 2015. Perhaps we are moving in the right direction. We are far from Seattle on the map, but we in South Carolina are near in your heart. Seattle remains the top technology center for the Americas. Seattle’s culture may not be as welcoming as the cuddly, tropical South, but the technology from King County has more to offer the 21st Century than people caterwauling over a conquered nation like the Confederate States of America. Simply put, we must care how you do it up North. Southern ways could both kill and save us all. It is more important to realize that we all occupy the same space rather than continue to fight over North, South, East, and West.

The next time you are at the Lakeview Cemetery, take note of the UDC #885 monument and remember one thing. We all win when we choose to live in the world as it is, while working to make it as we would like it to be. I thank Ms. Charlette LeFevre for reaching out to me, and for the Capitol Hill Pride community for its attention to the UDC #885 monument Lakeview Cemetery. Read more about their perspective here:

https://wildninjablog.com/2015/07/14/8755/

http://blog.seattlepi.com/capitolhill/2015/07/10/why-seattles-confederate-monument-with-confederate-flag-symbol-should-come-down/.

What is an eyesore for most Seattle residents can only be removed by the UDC itself, since it is on private property.

If we are to build a dominant culture where all lives have equal value, as the motto of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reads, we will give greater attention to welcoming everyone without balkanizing anyone for the complicated and sanguine history we all share. The hope of humankind is that life gets better for everyone with each passing generation. Let us remember these two cemeteries in laying said history to rest once and for all.

Thanks for listening.

Loyally I remain,

Heidi Christensen
Oconee County, South Carolina Republican Party member 2012-present
Spokane County, Washington Republican Party member 2018-present
Elected Libertarian, Spokane County Cemetery Commissioner, Milan District #5 1999-2001

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