For decades people have been petitioning and protesting for the removal of Confederate-era statues and monuments, but with no success. Until recently.
NPR conducted a poll recently finding 44% of African-Americans want the monuments to stay compared to the 40% who want them removed, and six out of ten Americans in general want the statues to remain. If this is
the case who are the cities really listening to? Even Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia and civil rights activist voiced his support for keeping Confederate monuments. Young believes that Stone Mountain in particular is a “tremendous carving,” and “didn’t want to see it destroyed.” When the majority of people want the statues to remain, what is the goal here?
Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana had four monuments removed from the city this last year causing quite the controversy. When Louisiana State University polled residents of Louisiana, three out of four supported the monuments staying, and only 20% wanted them gone. How is that acting in the interest of the people? Even now there is a petition circulating asking that the law be changed to bring back the monuments.
Twenty-two cities have already removed monuments with additional proposals being written by the day. When all of these monuments have fallen what will be next? The cult of outrage will not be satisfied with just Civil War monuments, and will soon move on to other historical figures. Where does it stop?
Just last October there were protests at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to remove a statue of Theodore Roosevelt and change the name of Columbus Day. Using this logic one could claim that monuments of the Founding Fathers should be removed because they supported slavery, or because they were sexist for thinking women should stay at home raising children. One cannot take the morals and ideals of today and apply them to the past or there would be nothing left.
The other issue to look at when it comes to the removal of Confederate monuments is the cost. It cost the city of New Orleans 2.1 million dollars to remove the statues, when Landrieu said it would only cost $170,000 and be paid for privately. It’s hard to justify spending 2.1 million dollars of funds on something only 20% of the population wanted removed.
The Civil War is part of America’s history and remembering that with monuments, memorials and statues is important. Removing and erasing history is a slippery slope. Almost all major historical figures would not hold up to the moral standards of today. Does that mean they should be removed from history or have their statues taken down or defaced? We must remember and celebrate our history and not give into demands from fringe groups that will only want more and more the more they are given.
As with all good things, the best conversations start in line for burritos.
As Chipotle is wont to do, the interminable line meant extra time waiting for carnita flour- wrapped goodness. Naturally, opportunities for conversation presented itself. With the threat of awkward silence threatening my companion and me, we aimed to save ourselves by virtue of discussion over the latest controversy engulfing Trump-era America.
That’s how we broached the topic of Confederate statues in modern American cities while in line at a fast-casual joint.
Hedging her bets, my friend opted to let me make my points against the statues first. My argument was as follows.
Destroying the statues would be a mistake, however, keeping them in public view is unacceptable. My reasoning
was that the statues didn’t just represent history. They represented a failed ideology that posed an existential threat to the nation.
After the end of the Civil War, the leaders of that failed insurrection embarked on a mission to remake history in their own image. The myth of the lost cause spread like a cancer throughout the South, recasting unrepentant slaveholders into heroic figures doomed to struggle against the belligerent North.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There were no kindly slave masters. To hold another human in bondage is to deny a person’s essential humanity.
Those statues were raised as a reminder to former slaves that the old masters had never truly left.
I proposed moving them to museums. Doing so would allow the statues to be properly contextualized. My viewpoint safely out in the open, my friend opted to reply. She argued that moving them to museums had the same effect as destroying them. After all, who goes to museums anymore?
It’s a fair, if blunt, point. Putting them in museums means less foot traffic to see the statue put in its proper historical context.
The United States is not the only place that has had to struggle with difficult legacies. Europe suffered through the Holocaust, genocide invaded Rwanda and Asia has been visited by atrocity several times. But look closely
at the monuments left behind in those areas. Eastern Europe tore down the paeans to communism left behind by the Soviets. Monuments to Holocaust exist, but they are somber memorials to the victims, not triumphant odes to the camp guards.
My friend tried arguing that keeping the statues up allowed parents walking with their children nearby to explain what the statues meant. I asked, what story would they tell? Later, she was surprised to learn that on the second day of the Civil War, the Vice President of the Confederacy blithely admitted that it was all for the right to own slaves. She admitted that her school experience in Colorado never taught her much about the Civil War.
And to think, Colorado fought on the side of the Union.
The monuments we raise are about more than just the truth of history. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves about our nation. Those statues were raised because the men who made them had an ideology to preserve. They weren’t interested in historical truth.
It’s on us to ask ourselves who we want to be. At some point, it stops being about what the majority wants and about what is simply right and wrong. Majorities have been wrong before, to disastrous results.
There is plenty to be proud of about this country. As citizens, we have to ensure we’re picking the right things to celebrate.