New Orleans, Charlottesville, and Baltimore are the latest flash points in countering white supremacy efforts to sanitize our history. Confederate statues and monuments have been removed or there are plans to remove them. Some people complain that such actions are erasing history but in fact removing Confederate statues is one step in acknowledging our historical mistakes.
Yet many historians say the argument about preserving Southern history doesn’t hold up when you consider the timing of when the “beautiful” statues, as Trump called them, went up.
“Most of the people who were involved in erecting the monuments were not necessarily erecting a monument to the past,” said Jane Dailey, an associate professor of history at the University of Chicago.”But were rather, erecting them toward a white supremacist future.”
James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, says that the increase in statues and monuments was clearly meant to send a message.
“These statues were meant to create legitimate garb for white supremacy,” Grossman said. “Why would you put a statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson in 1948 in Baltimore?”
To build Confederate statues, says Dailey, in public spaces, near government buildings, and especially in front of court houses, was a “power play” meant to intimidate those looking to come to the “seat of justice or the seat of the law.”
The removed statues aren’t being destroyed. They are being removed from public spaces to remove that intimidation factor mentioned above. Celebrating a traitor or racist from a losing side of a civil war would show a gross misinterpretation of history unless it was to let people of color know who was favored by the government.
The removed statues can be placed on private property or placed in a museum where it’s context can be fully explained as it should be.
The President mentioned George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in his off-the-rails press conference last week. He claimed if we remove Lee’s statue what about Washington and Jefferson.
Setting aside the apples to oranges comparison (Lee was only known as a traitor while Washington and Jefferson did much more), I think it would be great for historical sites and monuments show the flaws in our “heroes”. For example at Monticello, Jefferson’s home, they recently rebuilt the slave quarters and made other changes to “uncover” the slavery past of our founding father. Previously, that history was known but not shown at his home.
You could add plaques or signs to other monuments to great men who had flaws, like Washington and Jefferson, and explain what those flaws were in the wider context of history.
You can’t do that for Confederate statues and monuments because there is no other context for their existence but supporting white supremacy.
I would also remove the names of traitors from street signs, public schools, and parks. Why should someone who betrayed their country be “honored” with their name on streets and such?
The argument about Confederate statues being erected at the “seat of justice or the seat of the law” to show who the government favors is also why I support the removal of religious symbols and monuments in public spaces like a court house lawn or at a public school. If a Confederate statue can send a certain message then why wouldn’t a religious monument send one as well. The message is the government favors a particular religion – in this case Christianity – over all the others and over having no religious beliefs. Those symbols are nothing but a power play for the believers who happen to control the government.
Removing religious symbols from public spaces would also be a step in correcting our historical mistakes.
Also published on Medium.