Move ahead through history — not backwards

I cringe whenever I see a statue extolling officers and leaders of the confederacy, but I have no desire to give to create a “martyr” status in some eyes.

In NO WAY do I support neo-nazis, white supremacists, or confederate sympatherizers (whether from the 19th Century or the 21st); however, I do have some concerns about the program of removal of confederate monuments.    Slavery and the Civil War are part of the history of the US – and, as horrible as that history is, it needs to be remembered – with clarity! – in order that we not repeat those mistakes and to insure that everyone understands the true history, what it means and why it can never happen again.

It is necessary to be aware of the pain caused by those statues, both when they were erected and, still, today.   We should also be aware that our actions now could increase feelings of disaffection among certain segments of society;   whether we agree with those feelings or not, we should acknowledge that such feelings are real.  If society is to heal from our present deep divisions, we must acknowledge those divisions.

It is very important to realize that those statues do not represent fond memories which were erected in the 19th Century, to commemorate “lost glories” – they were erected in the early 20th Century, during the height of “Jim Crow” discrimination and resurgent KKK activity; they were erected for the purpose of intimidation, not honor, and the purpose behind such placement mocks any honor.   (For an excellent article on the history and historical context of those monuments, I suggest http://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544266880/confederate-statues-were-built-to-further-a-white-supremacist-future)

I do want to address the issue about statues of other historical figures who were also slaveowners.  It is deeply troubling and embarrassing that Washington and Jefferson and other “Founding Fathers” and national heroes owned slaves; it is troubling and embarrassing precisely because it was rampant throughout our history.  The shame is with all of us, not just those individuals.   There is a difference, however, between someone who fought to create this country and to preserve this country and those who fought to destroy it.   When we honor someone like Washington, we do so with full awareness of the sins of the times, but we acknowledge his contributions in spite of those shortcomings.   The officers and generals who actively fought with the confederacy and against the Union do not fit within that category.

From the beginning, it seemed to make more sense to me (both economically and socially) to “add to” those monuments to hatred, rather than totally remove them…to, in effect, change their meaning from one of intimidation to one of reconciliation.  For one thing, removal of a part of history runs the risk of letting that history be forgotten — and this blight on America’s story should never been forgotten! For another thing, simple removal makes no statement.

There are a couple of potential solutions that take a middle ground between leaving them where they are (on public property, in most instances) and melting them down for plowshares (my personal favorite solution, but politically untenable).

One response would be the “European model” where the offending statues are removed from their public positions to “historical parks” which contain educational displays about their true meaning.  They remain for those who wish to see them – and learn from them – but they are no longer part of our everyday world, a constant reminder of past and present hatred.

Some other ideas have been posited on Facebook: to either remove the figures of the man in each statue and leave the horses intact (a fascinating idea, but impractical) or to remove the statues completely, leaving only the empty pedestal – also a good idea, although I believe that an historically-accurate plaque would be in order, so explain the empty pedestal.

We should not forget history – we should learn from it!   Remember the conflict and the lessons, but do not romanticize those who sought to destroy in the name of hatred and superiority.

I have thought long and deeply about this issue, cognizant of both the weight of history and the acrid taste of slavery and oppression.  To be sure, these so-called “monuments” should never have been erected on public land in the first place (regardless of whether public or private money paid for the monument).   If private groups wished to erect monuments for anything less than 100% of the population, they should have placed such items on private lands.  Public lands should NEVER be used for anything but a 100% public purpose…for all citizens.  (That’s one difference between monuments to confederate officers and public monuments to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, King, etc. – the latter monuments memorialize people and events from the totality of the American experience.)

Once such items have, however, been placed in the public domain, they are now a “public problem” and must be dealt with as such.   My suggestion is to add to that “public art” – not subtract from it.    I propose that historical markers be placed in front of each such monument, giving an historical perspective and a social setting.

I suggest a marker that reads somewhat as follows:

Historical Context: Civil War Monument

The Civil War monument behind this historical marker was erected at a time of social upheaval and strife in this country.   While some factions argue that this and similar statues and monuments simply remember history, other factions point to discrimination and racial bias connected to them. 

This monuments (and other similar monuments) is being left in place as a “teaching tool” to remind us that the United States stands for freedom and equality and that our freedom includes the First Amendment right to expound any idea, whether proved true or false, popular or unpopular.

By the placement of this historical marker, we acknowledge old divisions and vow to work together to heal them.

I propose that this historical marker be placed right in front of each Civil War monument, so it is impossible to overlook the existence or significance of the marker.  In fact, the very same historical marker could be placed in front of each such monument (thereby reducing the cost of manufacturing so many markers).

Perhaps such an addition to these monuments may help to change them from flashpoints to talking points.

 

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