Past Is Prologue

Statues Make Good Rubble

An open letter to my fellow Southerners

Tim Wise
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readJun 20, 2020
Removal of Robert E. Lee statue, New Orleans, 2017. Photo: Abdazizar/Wikimedia Commons

Dear defenders of the Lost Cause, wavers of Confederate flags, and keepers of marble monuments to soldiers long dead,

First off, yes, I am a Southerner. I shouldn’t even have to tell you this, but I’ve been around long enough to know that if I don’t, given what I’m about to say, some-a-y’all are gonna think I’m a Yankee. And not like the New York baseball kind, but like the kind that brought free education and electricity to wherever the hell it is you’re from.

I have never lived outside the South for more than five weeks, and parts of my family have been here since the early 1600s. In fact, my 13th great-grandfather was Christopher Newport, the piratical boat captain who first sailed into Jamestown, and without whose navigational skills neither you nor I would be here.

That’s not a boast by the way. Newport’s exploits were a decidedly mixed bag, opening the door to everything that came after, good and bad. Without them, we would not be here, but millions more indigenous people might be.

Had he died when his ship wrecked on Bermuda during a third supply run from England or been unable to build a new boat and sail on to Jamestown 10 months later, the colony may well have died out. Had this happened, it could have ended colonization altogether (or at least long enough for the Powhatan and others to coalesce into a defensive force capable of repelling further European incursion). And since John Rolfe was also on that boat — the guy who first cultivated tobacco in North America, prompting demand for the enslavement of Africans — let’s just say things would have been quite different had all those aboard the Sea Venture perished.

Others of my family came in the mid-1700s to Pennsylvania, shortly thereafter making their way to North Carolina — among them, my fifth great-grandfather who fought in the Revolution and was one of the so-called founders of Nashville. So if you like country music, two-for-one deals on boots down on lower Broadway, or those God-awful peddle taverns, well, you’re welcome.

When I mention my family legacy, I do so not out of pride. It is merely to let you know that, as we say in the South, my…



Tim Wise
Human Parts

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)