Austin Foss

As a Southerner, I have always had a complicated relationship to exploring the past. So much of Southern history remains in the shadows of modern consciousness, and as someone with deep Southern roots, I understand the desire to keep the past in the shadows, in my experience I have tried to avoid looking into the hollow of my family tree out of fear of what could be lurking there. This seems to be a common motif of the Modern South as it gradually comes to terms with the cruel nature of its history. So much of Southern History is built upon the “Lost Cause of the Antebellum South,” with countless Confederate memorials throughout the South. Growing up in my hometown of Montgomery I was very well aware of the city’s status as a “provisional” capital of the Confederacy. This narrative featured a museum honoring the “First White House of the Confederacy,” a statue of President of the Confederacy, and Mississippi native, Jefferson Davis in front of the Alabama State Capitol door, and two very large high schools named after the aforementioned Davis and Confederate General, and Virginia native, Robert E. Lee. These monuments are in stark contrast to the 20th Century History that unfolded in Montgomery from Dr. King’s time at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks, to key Civil Rights figures Fred Gray and Virginia Durr, which are all remembered in Montgomery but are vastly overshadowed by the “Lost Cause.” Montgomery remains, in 2017, a living monument to the “Lost Cause” of a civilization which Margret Mitchell called “a civilization Gone with the Wind.” But this class allowed me to see that Southern Society in the 19th and 20th centuries dedicated itself to ridding the South of black society. Through fear, intimidation, disenfranchisement, acts of aggression, domination of the narrative, and segregation the South was consecrated to the memory of “The Lost Cause.”
This class allowed me to look into the shadows of Southern History and see the horrific measures Southerners took to ensure that the narrative of the South remained one dedicated to division, racial superiority, and glorifying the “Lost Cause.” Lynching as a form of racial terrorism illustrates just how important control of the narrative was to Southern leaders following the Civil War. Grotesque lynchings plagued Black Society for nearly a century, and cases like Emmett Till have been singled out to illustrate the heinous nature of lynchings similarly this class allowed me to see the large-scale implications of a single lynching in Tuscaloosa County. But this was not the story of Emmett Till, though there were similarities, this was a young man who had his life stolen from him, who nobody ever demanded justice for, who nobody ever spoke up for, this lynching did its job, it sent a message.
Today I can walk to the spot where a young man was brutally murdered by a mob of local citizens. The hardest thing I faced in this class was coming to terms with the fact that when I drive down the road, I have to cope with the evils of lynching. But I have now learned that to millions of Americans that spot represented the consequences simply of their race. That spot, just like the Confederate Memorials across the South, is the byproduct of an aggressive war to control the narrative of the South. Southern History doesn’t mention the names of the black men lynched in Tuscaloosa County, and that was the goal of the lynchings, to keep the black voice out of the Southern narrative. And that is why this class was so important to me, to shed light on history not discussed, to see how history can be manipulated to tell a false story, to give meaning to lives that were senselessly stolen.