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Speaking with History - Part 1

My father has this knack for doing this thing. 
He likes to read articles about people who have been a part of history,
and then he likes to look them up, 
call them, 
set up a meeting, 
and road trip across the country to remote little towns.

I don't really have the guts to call someone I don't know
and if I was raised like others 
I might think that most elderly people want to be left alone to rest. 

My father has taught me otherwise. 
They want to talk.
They want to share all that they have learned.

In my lifetime I have met around 10 holocaust survivors
(one who became like a grandmother to me), 
three children of Confederate veterans, 
a World War I veteran, 
many World War II veterans, 
several people over 100 years old,
and the grandson of a black Confederate soldier.

You read that last one correctly. 
I took time out of my honeymoon three years ago to go meet him.
My dad had become a friend to Mr. Nelson Winbush after many phone conversations, 
but I was lucky enough to meet him first. 

He showed me many things his grandfather had passed down to him. 
Among them were the Confederate flag that was draped over his grandfather's casket
and his father's Confederate uniform.

One article about him read,
"He attended 39 Confederate reunions. 
At one, he was told he could not sleep in the same gymnasium as white veterans.
The white veterans said that if he left, there were going too.
They all stayed."

Mr. Winbush told me a lot about his grandfather, 
and he passed on a lot of wisdom, 
but some of the greatest things he said to me were these:

There were good people and bad people on both sides of the war. 
Many people fought for different reasons. 
Still, history was written by the victors.
His grandfather (who was at first a slave that went to war with his master's son) 
fought to protect his rights 
and his beloved land. 
He became close friends with many in his unit of all different races.

What he was saying to me over and over and over 
through stories
and relics
and conviction in his voice was
that people are better than you think. 
Never judge another person by what someone else says. 
Never judge an entire culture, people, or part of the country based on what a textbook tells you.
You must decide for yourself.
Be kind and good in everything that you do. 

Ever since I was young my father has taught me that I come from a good family. 
People who have wisdom to share. 
People who I should emulate. 

BUT then I would go to school
and in any lesson about the Civil War I would listen to my teachers talk.
They would tell us how the South fought to preserve slavery for their cotton plantations.
They would describe how slaves were beaten and abused by ALL Southern white people. 
They would talk about how ALL people in the South thought they were above black people,
but ALL people in the North wanted abolition (wrong). 
One teacher even said that she was "disgusted" and "offended" that 
there was a Confederate flag flying alongside the American flag at a battlefield that she had visited. 

They taught that 
South = Bad
North = Good.

And I would sit confused
and upset by it all. 
I would raise my hand and tell them I disagreed. 
It was wrong.

So wrong.

There were good and bad people on BOTH sides of the war.

My great great great grandfather fought in the Civil War.
He was a Confederate soldier. 
He owned a small plot of land that he worked with his wife and children. 
No slaves. 
And when Union troops advanced toward his home, 
He left all that he loved to protect them. 
He fought for his rights and his land and his family. 
He fought and died under the Confederate flag for those things.
Rights, land, and family. 
So to me THAT is what that flag stands for.

Imagine the lump in my throat when my teacher told me that the Confederate flag
was only a symbol of hatred and the KKK. 
And the American flag is only ever used to represent good things then right?

But I still place my hand over my heart and get teary eyed every single time I look
to the American flag as the anthem is sung.
I have many family members who have fought under that flag as well.
To me it represents some of the exact same things -
rights, land, and family.

My GGG Grandfather's children went on to leave a legacy 
that showed who he was in character even more. 

Years down the road, 
my great grandfather died when my grandfather was very young. 
When my grandfather went back to his father's hometown in the South
to try to learn more about the father he never got to know,
he found a man who said this of him, 
"He was one of the greatest men I ever knew.
He was always kind to blacks in a time when it was dangerous to do so."

THIS is the legacy my family has left for me. 
A legacy of people who worked hard, 
built beautiful families,
stood up for their rights, 
and believed in equality and kindness.

So no, 
I never understood how my teachers could say things like that.
I never understood how they could ridicule me for loving my Confederate ancestors. 
I never understood how they could read history from a book and believe every word. 

I have spoken with History 
many times. 

And I am so grateful for the lessons that I have learned firsthand.
Most importantly, 
there will always be good AND bad in the world. 
Always be the good.
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