In 1995, I worked for the Daily Leader in Brookhaven, Mississippi. The Leader was a small five-day-a-week newspaper (Monday through Friday) with a circulation of around 5,000 a day (if my memory is serving me correctly). I was not hired to be a cartoonist but as the staff photographer. But I still did my daily cartoons which unfortunately, my publisher had no interest in. I was self-syndicating to state newspapers, so when my publisher killed a cartoon, I didn’t stress over it. But when he killed a cartoon criticizing the KKK, I knew we had an issue.
Previously, this publisher had killed a cartoon depicting state legislators as clowns. Today, I refuse to draw politicians as clowns as it’s such a lazy concept. I was probably the only cartoonist in the nation not to draw a clown car cartoon during the 2016 GOP primaries, but this was 1995. My publisher left me a note that he killed the clown legislature cartoon because we were to respect the lawmakers and not mock them in such an open fashion or some boo-hoo shit like that. I knew I would not last long as this job if I couldn’t mock politicians. I was right. I was fired in my eighth month.
But why was the Klan cartoon killed? I didn’t get a memo on that one so I asked. “What up with killing the Klan cartoon?” I was told it was too controversial. Why, in 1995 was it controversial to criticize the KKK? This was deep south Mississippi. Five years before this at my previous paper, they lost advertisers when I drew a cartoon criticizing segregated high school reunions (in 1990). There were also segregated baseball little leagues.
Brookhaven is in southern Mississippi, To them, Memphians are Yankees. One of the publisher’s secretaries saw the cartoon and thought all the Klansmen were cute (and she was young). While the Klan wasn’t what it was during Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement, or displaying themselves in public and marching down the street (Donald Trump hadn’t told them to yet), they were still there. They were still an institution. Racism was still an institution. While I did anti-racism cartoons that ran in Mississippi newspapers, like in Jackson, Tupelo, Vicksburg, Biloxi, Greenville, Clarksdale, Columbus, Oxford, Hattiesburg, Batesville, etc, they didn’t run in Brookhaven. And when I was fired, none of my cartoons were ever in the Daily Leader ever again. I don’t think my publisher was a racist but he was a businessman. When the publisher is the president of the Chamber of Commerce, there will never be any criticism in his newspaper.
In case my old publisher finds this, I’ll be fair and point out that when I was fired, it wasn’t for my cartoons (but they probably didn’t help my case). I was fired because I didn’t do a good job at the job he hired me for. He was perfectly justified in canning my ass. But before he fired me, he did ask that I decrease the amount of cartoons I was drawing. That was really when I knew I wasn’t long for the job. I didn’t do it. The publisher did enter my cartoons into the state newspaper contest after I was fired and never gave me plaque after they won first place.
I actually enjoyed living in Brookhaven. It’s a beautiful city and the people were wonderful to me. I was kinda treated like a rock star there. I wouldn’t call it a racist city but it still had the old institution of racism that wasn’t to be criticized and usually, best to just not ever mention it. But I’m sure things have changed now…or I hope they have. Because if that old institution can come down in the capital of the Confederacy, it can come down anywhere.
Richmond, Virginia was the capital of the Confederacy. Between 1900 and 1925, they put up a LOT of Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, which could have been called “Racist Avenue.” Putting up Confederate statues to honor those who waged war against the United States of America was a trend in the deep south of the United States of America in the early 1900s. This was because the KKK was making a resurgence during this time. The film, “Birth of a Nation,” still regarded as the most racist film in Hollywood history (white actors in blackface played slaves), was released in 1915. The film was even screened in Woodrow Wilson’s White House. White racists were feeling good and Confederate monuments were going up throughout the south.
In Richmond, they up statues to J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and Robert E. Lee. The city erected other monuments to the Confederacy throughout the city, including cannons to memorialize the city’s defense against the Yankee invasion.
These monuments are signs of racism. While there are arguments and defenses that these things, including the Confederate flag, are not racist, they are. They are nothing but racism. When some goober tells you the Civil War wasn’t about racism, the goober is only half-right. The Union did not fight to end slavery, but the Confederacy’s fight was only about slavery. “States rights” is code for slavery.
These monuments are (or “were” in a lot of cases) about nothing except glorifying the fight for racism. And these cities, such as Richmond, had a hard time taking them down. In 1996, Richmond put up a statue to Arthur Ashe, a black tennis champion from the city, to appease the city’s black community. It’s like, “Here. We gave you one, now shut up about our five.” But just how stupid is it to have a row of white racist Confederate general, white racist Confederate general, white racist Confederate general, white racist Confederate general, white racist Confederate naval commander, and black tennis guy?
Finally, during the George Floyd protest, these monuments started to come down. There were legal fights over the Lee statue but last week, Robert E. Lee finally came down in Richmond, Virginia. It took over one hundred years, but it’s done.
Richmond is a very history city and it should always recognize its past, as the rest of the south can, but they can do it without honoring the horrible parts of it. There are differences between markers and shrines. Let’s dismantle those shrines.
Republicans point out that it was Democrats who put up these racist statues and monuments, but it’s Republicans today who are trying to preserve them. The capital of the Confederacy was Richmond. Today, the capital of the Confederacy is Mar-a-Lago.
Now on to something else: Matthew Fontaine Maury, who had a statue in Richmond, still has a lot of shrines. This Confederate, who designed a plan to expand American slavery to Brazil, and was a fugitive from the United States after the war until he received a pardon, is still being honored. There is a Maury Lake and a Maury River. There are Maury Halls at James Madison University, the University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, and the United States Naval Academy (which would be like putting up a Rommel Hall at West Point). Tidewater Community College has a ship named after Maury. The United States Navy had ships during World War One and Two named after Maury. The U.S. Navy also commissioned the USNS Maury in 2013. Really? The United States government was still naming shit after Confederates in 2013? There is a bust of Maury in the Hall For Great Americans in New York City. There are several elementary schools in Virginia still named after the guy. There was one here in Fredericksburg which was turned into condominiums. Since he’s from Spotsylvania County, there’s still Maury Field here in Fredericksburg where the James Madison High School football team plays (why not, uh…James Madison Field?). There is even a fucking crater on the moon named after the guy. Why do we need space racists?
Can we finally change these names? While we’re at it, can we please finally change the name of Route 1 in Fredericksburg, which runs from Maine to Florida? In Fredericksburg, Route 1 is “Jefferson Davis Highway.” Even if the Virginia General Assembly doesn’t change it for the entire state, the city can change it here. The city is blue, so c’mon. Also, it’s a really long title when you’re filling forms out by hand. As to the complaint that it’s expensive for businesses to change signs, letterheads, and such to a new name, it’s good for business not to display anything racist. If there were Nazi Donuts, it wouldn’t matter how good they were, you wouldn’t buy them. Sure, MAGAts would, but ignore that for now. Businesses don’t willingly post racist signs…well, there is one chimney business in Stafford County that does that, but that’s Stafford and the local GOP HQ used to be across the street until a Spanish-speaking church took it over (Nice!).
Richmond and Fredericksburg are blue now. Together with northern Virginia, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and the entire Chesapeake area, they make Virginia blue. They’re taking out the trash and it’s time for the rest of the nation to join in.
American south, take out the trash. Yakety-yak. Don’t talk back.
Creative note: I dedicate this cartoon to my padawan, Alexandra Bowman, who is a student at Georgetown and a master at everything. I showed her the rough to this cartoon and she loved it. When I passed it over in favor for yesterday’s cartoon of Trump and boxing, she was disappointed. So, I felt I owed it to her to draw “Confederate Furries.” Also, I showed it to my colleague Chris Britt who suggested I add “do not recycle.” He said that alone could be the cartoon and I could take the furries out, but I couldn’t break Alex’s heart like that.
Update: The General Assembly has approved a name change of Jefferson Davis Highway to “Emancipation Highway.” It does allow municipalities to opt out of that name and choose another, but they can’t go with “Jefferson Davis.” My city, Fredericksburg, plans to stick with “Emancipation” while the two red counties surrounding the city are offended by “Emancipation.” Spotsyltucky, I mean, Spotsylvania will go with “Richmond Highway” while Stafford will name the road “Patriot Highway” because they’re a bunch of jackasses. Using “Patriot” is a wink and nod to right-wingers because they think they own that word. The irony is they are not patriots.
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