If “Old Joe” hasn’t been removed from Gainesville’s central square, it is time to do so. “Old Joe” was unveiled on June 7, 1909, by my father. His mother, Pollie C. Mealor, a leader in the local chapter of the UDC, was instrumental in having the statue erected.
Like many Southerners, I have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, including relatives who were killed or seriously wounded. And what were they fighting for? I was taught that it was state rights. And what was the basis for states’ rights? It was to preserve a culture controlled by a minority, the wealthy planter class, at the expense of both slaves and the majority of white Southerners who were yeoman farmers, storekeepers or laborers, few of whom owned slaves.
The aftermath of that war changed the South from the wealthiest section of the nation to the poorest, resulting in the share cropping system of farming and Jim Crow laws, which not only oppressed African Americans but also poor whites.
While we, as a nation, have made strides in rectifying the economic and social injustices of the past, many of the symbols of Southern resistance remain and the attitude of many of us toward the symbols is one of preserving “heritage.”
The old Confederacy is gone. Gen. James Longstreet recognized this and pledged his allegiance to the United States and, after the war, served as Gainesville’s postmaster. His grave and memorial are in Alta Vista Cemetery; and this is where “Old Joe” belongs — with the dead.
I would like to think that my grandfather, a former mayor of Gainesville, would approve this move, and I know my father, a former business owner in Gainesville, would.
This is not to say we should forget our history, but it is not a history that brings peace or joy; it is a history we should lament. This is the time when those of us of privilege (especially those of us who are white and have not suffered as have our Black and brown brothers and sisters) to “furl the flag” (title of a Southern song sung at the end of the war) and practice the justice and equality expressed in the Constitution of The United States.
I urge the city of Gainesville to remove “Old Joe” from the city square. It is unfortunate that the tornado of 1936 didn’t do this.
W.T. Mealor Jr.