Home > Uncategorized > Do Not Leave Confederate Monuments Undisturbed – posted 7/5/2017

Do Not Leave Confederate Monuments Undisturbed – posted 7/5/2017

I am no fan of Confederate monuments. I have followed the national debate about what should happen to these monuments. Count me as one of those pleased when New Orleans recently decided to take down four Confederate monuments, including three large statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and P.G.T. Beauregard. New Orleans once had been America’s largest slave market so statue removal was a small act of poetic justice.

Considering all the arguments of both sides, I do not believe that Confederate monuments should remain undisturbed. While it is up to each locality how to address their monument, if the statue is not taken down, there at least needs to be a new plaque or marker putting the Confederate statue in the context of slavery and white supremacy. Considering the awful history of racism, that should be minimally required.

Also, nothing prevents any state, city, or town from putting up monuments to recognize the Black freedom struggle. In 2014, Charleston, South Carolina installed a new statue of Denmark Vesey, the leader of a failed slave rebellion in 1822. Erecting new anti-racist monuments is an effective way to balance the historical narrative. Taking down statues is not the only way to go.

Call me a damn Yankee but I cannot see honoring a sickness. I suppose you could also call the Confederacy a monstrous crime against humanity. People like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were architects of a system based on slavery.

To me, Confederate monuments are the equivalent of South Africa maintaining monuments to honor apartheid after that miserable social system was mercifully dismantled and dispatched. You do not see any monuments there to the good old days of Hendrik Verwoerd, B. J. Vorster, P.W. Botha, and F.W. deKlerk.

I have heard the arguments about how the Confederate monuments are about Southern heritage, states’ rights, and regional pride. Some have said taking down these monuments denies history. I am not buying.

I think we need some perspective on the scope of the issue. According to USA Today, there are at least 700 Confederate monuments nationally in 31 states. Many of the monuments are prominently located in public parks, courthouse squares and in state capitals.

The monuments are not located in the deep South alone. USA Today says many are in border states that fought with the Union. The number of these monuments has actually been increasing. USA Today says 35 have been added since 2000.

It needs to be asked: how can the number of these monuments be increasing?

The answer is that there are still people ideologically fighting the Civil War. There are varieties of Southern apologists including right wing neo-Confederates who are not reconciled to the Civil War verdict on the Confederacy. They are aggressively trying to influence public debate and turn back the clock.

Part of the problem is that even at this late date, people do not understand the horror show that was the Confederacy nor do they grasp our racial history since the Civil War. While it is admittedly overambitious to tackle such a wide swath of history, I will take a stab at an overview.

The Southern states that seceded from the Union did so to preserve, maintain, and expand the cause of white supremacy. It is ironic that so many neo-Confederates now claim the South seceded over states’ rights.

When the Southern states left the Union, they did it because they were in favor of slavery and against states’ rights. Many of the Southern states were upset that northern states had passed laws that conflicted with the federal government’s efforts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. That federal law required that all escaped slaves be returned to their masters, even if they lived in the north. Abolitionists openly defied the law and some northern states passed “personal liberty” laws that barred local officials from cooperating in the capture and return of fugitive slaves. Some other states no longer let slave owners transit across their territory with slaves.

The South could not abide the actions of states that ran contrary to their slave trade business. Both the Underground Railroad and the expanding abolitionist movement also made that business more difficult.

It is quite revealing to read the seceding state declarations at the time they split from the Union. I think the Texas Declaration is quite representative. In its “Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede From the Federal Union”, Texas said:

“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the Confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”

Defenders of Confederate monuments seem lost in a fantasy of an idealized South where happy slaves willingly submitted while Confederate soldiers fought bravely and selflessly for their Lost Cause way of life. The defenders leave out so much. Behind the fantasy and undergirding it was Jim Crow, the Klan, and lynching. The harm of slavery and its aftermath is almost unfathomable. The lost lives, the murders, the squashed aspirations, the relentless racism and discrimination, the denial of a political voice, the unequal educational access, the lack of access to health care, the enforced servitude, the humiliation and subordination: the list is long.

I expect that some Southern apologists will see the argument I am making as some kind of leftist political correctness. I find that laughable. Where leftists or progressives go overboard and deny free speech on some college campuses, they should get criticized. However, this is a very different matter. Understanding our history of slavery and white supremacy is a matter of intellectual integrity and honesty. It has nothing to do with being p.c.

The deeper problem in America remains our minimizing the crimes and history of white supremacy. That is a continuing legacy affecting the whole country, not just the South, and there has been insufficient accountability for that. We still do not want to look at it.

Honestly, there was never a time to justify Confederate monuments. It is way past time to move on from that.

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