In response to the events in Charlottesville earlier this month, there has been an increase in activists pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments across America. For the most part, I agree. The Confederacy was quintessentially an anti-American organization that defied our Democratic system and rebelled. The spirit of the country was moving towards the abolition of slavery and, instead of accepting this, the Southern states turned to violence. To honor such an institution, in my opinion, is to honor something that was not only anti-American, but also anti-Democratic. The biggest reason why these monuments should come down, though, is centered on why these monuments were even put up in the first place.
Very few monuments honoring the Confederacy were erected post civil war. Even so, the few monuments that were built were mostly to honor fallen Southern soldiers and not leaders of the Confederacy like Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis. The majority of monuments were built between 1900-1940, with another notable chunk being built between 1955 and 1970.
Interestingly, if you look at this graph provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center you would see an alarming correlation between the building of Confederate statues and notable civil rights legislation. This is most noticeable post the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. As Martin Luther King Jr. and the NAACP advanced civil rights, the South (and even some non Southern states) built more Confederate monuments. The connection here is disturbingly clear. As African-Americans gained civil rights, those who wished to stand in front of progress built these monuments to send a message that white supremacy was here to stay.
And yes, the unequal treatment of black and whites was a main tenant of the Confederacy whether or not Southern sympathizers want to admit it. But, do not take my word for it, take it from Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy who said, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [the idea of equality]; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”
And yes, we do have monuments dedicated to this man such as the Alexander Stephens park, which the state of Georgia proudly displays on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website: “The historic architecture, gentle rolling hills, forested trails and placid lakes of A.H. Stephens Historic State Park, once home to the Vice President of the Confederacy and later the ‘boys’ of the Civilian Conservation Corps, now provide you an oasis of natural and historical beauty for recreation, reflection and relaxation.”
Such monuments honoring individuals like Stephens can, understandably, make many African-Americans uncomfortable. Many of those who built these monuments or named these parks likely realized this and, as a result, used such dedications as an attempt to convey to African-Americans that they were unwelcome and that the southern-whites were still “in charge.” Or, as Jane Dailey, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, put it: “Most of the people who were involved in erecting the monuments were not necessarily erecting a monument to the past, but, were rather, erecting them towards a white supremacist future.”
When those defending Confederate statues argue that the left is only dismantling the statues for political reasons they present an argument glaringly void of any self-awareness. The simple truth is that these monuments were actually put up for political reasons. These memorials were created in support of the politics of Jim Crow. So, with that in mind, is it so bad to dismantle these statues, even if it is for political reasons? Furthermore, one has to wonder, “why is the equality of the races even a political issue?”
You will hear many claim that the removal of statues is akin to rewriting history. This is, perhaps, the weakest argument for keeping Confederate monuments. We can still teach about the Confederacy in schools and we can still display Confederate flags in museums. That is not the issue. Why not handle the Confederacy the same way Germany handles its Nazi past? German citizens are aware of the horror that took place only 70 years ago and, at the same time, Jewish German children are not forced to walk across “Adolph Hitler Park” passing statues of Heinrich Himmler on their way to go to “Joseph Goebbels Middle School.”
Unfortunately, though, some on the left have decided to take the removal of Confederate memorials farther and have now called for the removal of other memorials honoring figures like Thomas Jefferson. This movement is not only misguided, but it threatens to sink any successes we, as a country, may have in removing Confederate monuments.
First of all, unlike the Confederate monuments, those who built memorials to Jefferson, George Washington, and even those with a controversial past like Andrew Jackson did not build these memorials in an attempt to make minorities feel unwelcome. These memorials were built to honor the memory of America. While our country should do a better job in realizing that these men are not perfect, that does not mean that we should dismantle these monuments. Intent for a monument’s creation is a crucial litmus test on whether or not that monument should be removed. A good idea would be to keep these monuments up but at the same time focus on also building new monuments and new parks for historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. (which we have done and should continue to do).
Secondly, by going after these aforementioned monuments and the Confederate monuments, the left reinforces the stereotype that they are snowflakes that get offended by everything. As stated before, efforts to dismantle monuments should not be based on whether or not said monuments are offensive, but on what the intent of that monument was. Confederate monuments were created with the intent of making African-Americans feel unwelcome, so they should be taken down. The Washington memorial was created with the intent of honoring the foundation of our country, so it should stay. If, for example, there were monuments of Andrew Jackson in a native American reservation that were built with the intent of making native Americans feel unwelcome, than, by all means, take it down.
Many of these monuments were built by white supremacists in order to make African-American feel unwelcome. Let us, as a nation, tear down these monuments and let white supremacists know that they are actually the ones who are unwelcome.