The purpose of the series “He Said, She Said” is to create a respectful environment for differing stances on current controversial issues.
Recently, the display of monuments showcasing figures of the Confederacy have been met with heightened controversy. After months of gatherings initially sparked by the death of George Floyd, calls to remove these monuments have increased; some were removed legally through a municipal vote but others were illegally torn down by crowds. These events have led to countless conversations and debates over whether Confederate monuments should remain in the United States.
The placement of Confederate monuments began in the late nineteenth century, but most were built between the decades of the 1900s and the 1920s. In the 1890s, a group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy sought to protect the memory of their relatives, and funded the creation of countless monuments, many of which remain today (History).
Supporters of withdrawing Confederate monuments say that these monuments idolize the people who tried to tear apart American democracy. They explain how these monuments idolize “The Lost Cause” of the south, especially with the social movement within recent years. Opponents of removing Confederate monuments say that the monuments are encapsulated with crucial history that future generations should fully understand, and not forget. They also explain that the removal of these monuments will not correct the inequalities within society, and that they showcase the social change that America has undergone through time.
Confederate monuments should remain standing so that history can be preserved and taught so that the generations to come can learn from the rights and wrongs of history. They also showcase the positive progression of American social change. The removal of these monuments will do little to correct social injustices, as supporters say that it will do.
The history of the individual replicated in the monuments should be preserved, so that future generations can recognize the importance of the past, and build off of it. There is great importance to remembering history, even the darkest parts of it, so that it is never forgotten. The slogan “Never Forget”was coined after the horrific day of September 11, 2001, and can be applied to many of America’s events in the past, including the Confederacy. These monuments must be kept standing to serve as a reminder of history and to educate further generations the unmanipulated extent of our country’s story. The past cannot be changed, and many individuals are trying to create a distorted reality of America’s past. But in reality, the removal of Confederate monuments would only create an ignorant future.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a Civil War Union veteran and Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, remarked on Memorial Day in 1884: “I believe from the bottom of my heart that our memorial halls and statues and tablets, the tattered flags of our regiments gathered in the Statehouses, and this day with its funeral march and decorated graves, are worth more to our young men by way of chastening and inspiration than the monuments of another hundred years of peaceful life could be.” Here, Holmes specifically mentions monuments when explaining how critical it is for his successors to realize what happened in the past. In his testimony, he makes clear that the men of his generation, the men of the Civil War, will be gone soon. He expresses that accounts of history should be passed down to later generations, and offers his support of monuments, statues, and memorial halls to serve this purpose. Keeping Confederate monuments enables the remembrance of a very important aspect of American history, and the preservation of these monuments encapsulate history for generations to come.
Additionally, the history of the monuments themselves should be taken into account; many of the monuments that showcase Confederates were built during “The Monument Movement,” which began in the late nineteenth century and lasted into the early twentieth century. In both the North and the South, monuments were erected to serve as a community testimonial to those who fought in the American Civil War, many of whom were dying off. These monuments served as tributes to the men and boys that fought during the war, and played an important role in the remembrance of the war among small communities in both the North and South (The Federalist). Many of the Confederate monuments in the United States are at least 100 years old, and are a piece of history in and of themselves.
These monuments do not commemorate slavery or racism, nor should they. Instead their purpose is to act as a catalyst of remembrance to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died during America’s bloodiest war. The opposing argument claims that Confederate monuments were systematically placed in the south to oppress and offend minorities during the era of Jim Crow Laws. However, monuments were also erected in the north, during a time in which political machines ruled and took advantage of minorities in northern cities. Remembering the history behind the individuals and the history and purpose behind the monuments themselves is pivotal.
A major factor in why the debate of removing Confederate monuments has arised is due to the societal embracement of a woke standard and the acceptance and promotion of “cancel culture.” Today, certain groups of people seek to “cancel” individuals from the past because what they did or the values they held are not accepted today. It is unfair to hold someone that was born in the early nineteenth century to the social norms that are valued today. And due to this, some of history’s most influential figures are being questioned, not only Confederate leaders. The sad “woke” culture of today has gotten out of control; if Confederate monuments are torn down due to their “political incorrectness,” what is to come next?
As this debate has intensified in recent months, it has not just been the monuments of the Confederate soldiers and sailors removed. We have seen the full extent of the agenda behind removing Confederate monuments. Christopher Columbus was thrown into a lake, Lincoln was destroyed, Roosevelt toppled, Jackson came down, and Washington and Jefferson were brought down on Juneteenth because they owned slaves. When does this stop? Who would have thought that any of these individuals would have been vandalized and removed? This all shows how things can spiral out of control and how history’s greatest figures can become victims to an unknowledgeable generation toppling down statues without even knowing the history behind them.
The removal of these statues all started with the normalization of the removal of Confederate monuments and the promotion of canceling politically incorrect icons. Removing them could very well be the prerequisiteto iconoclasm, and the agenda of removing key figures in American history with flaws that contradict modern standards and public opinions.
All opinions aside, many polls clearly indicate that the majority of the American public does not support the removal of monuments highlighting figures of the Confederacy. According to a NPR/PBS NewsHour poll, 62% of those polled asserted that Confederate monuments should remain, compared to just 27% that argued they should be removed. This is well outside any margin of error due to the fact that a supermajority has been obtained. A key factor in these polls was that of the African-American community; 44% believe that they should stay, compared to 40% who say that they should be removed. And to be clear, the masses of groups calling for the removal of Confederate monuments argue that they commemorate slavery, and upset and offend African-Americans.
Andrew Young, former Atlanta Mayor and a career African-American civil rights activist that worked alongside Martin Luther King, agrees that Confederate statues should be kept (NPR). Referencing the younger African-Americans who are demanding the removal of Confederate statues, Young stated: “These are kids who grew up free, and they don’t realize what still enslaves them — and it’s not those monuments.”
Confederate monuments can be used to move into the future, while remembering the past at the same time. The generations of tomorrow can be taught with these statues, and informed about the real history behind them, and the statues could even be put into context. They can learn how the United States should move forward, building off of the wrongs of the past.
The monuments are used to highlight how America has undergone countless important social advancements since the mid nineteenth century, and to show how the country can heal, reunite, and learn from the past.”
— Colin Donegan
While attending the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, President George W. Bush stated that “A great nation does not hide its history, it faces its flaws and corrects them.” His words exemplify how the United States should recognize its history, and how Confederate monuments should serve as a reminder to all how crucial it is to fight against racism and the wrongs that happened in the past, while ensuring that they do not happen in the future.
The entire argument for removing monuments showcasing Confederate figures deals with the claim that they promote slavery and racism; but what will removing a military general who was been dead for 150 years do anything? This only takes away from real social issues and racial inequalities that plague modern society. Steps towards greater equality and an era in which racism is terminated in America does not start with the removal of history and Confederate monuments.
Throughout the United States, especially this past year, the call for change and the Black Lives Matter movement have become a focal point of conversation. Legislation, social change, and overall progression to acknowledging the truth behind American history has begun. As a society we are moving toward a collective perspective that celebrates both the white side of history as well as the hard work of people of color and minorities throughout our time as a nation.
Recently, debate has sparked around Confederate monuments that were built across the United States when the reversal of the Civil Rights movement started. As Jim Crow laws and black codes were placed into legislation, statues of oppressors and Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were erected. Throughout 2020, especially at Black Lives Matter protests and general civil rights movements, the statues commemorating these men have been torn down. This has created unwieldy uproar from both sides of the argument as American history and the progression of our nation is brought into question.
Ultimately, these monuments do not represent America and should be torn down. These monuments represent Confederate insurgents who fought mainly for slavery. These people are not American heroes. The nearly catastrophic divide between the United States over the right to own slaves was almost the downfall of this great nation, why would we have monuments celebrating these men who tried to commit treason?
Business Insider offers an invaluable point, “…the statues perpetuate the “Lost Cause” mythology that romanticizes slavery and promotes the honor of the Confederate cause.” The counter believes that the removal of these monuments will lead to a complete erasal of history. This is simply untrue. By removing these statues we are correcting what American’s publicly memorialize and support. We do not support racist and bigots and the romanticization of these leaders. The promotion of this “Lost Cause” fuels this notion that the south during this time was noble and brave. The Confederates must be recognized as they are, traitors. History is taught in the classroom, from kindergarten to university. To idolize these insurgents and white supremacists on public land goes far beyond a history lesson. The United States continuously calls itself the land of the free but at a point it was the home of the enslaved and as a society we are moving towards the recognition of the latter.
It is important to not only look at what these statues are intended to represent but what they legitimately symbolize. Karen Cox, a New York Times Op-ed contributor says this, “the Charlottesville march, with its hundreds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists coming out to defend the memory of General Lee, puts the lie to the notion that, as the apologists say, these monuments are about “heritage, not hate.” Although these statues are argued to feature history and act as a reminder of our gruesome past the reality is that they are used as a consistent motif of hatred. A constant reminder that racism in America is live and well. White nationalists as Cox mentioned have latched onto these statues as a way of preserving their hatred and racism. For this reason alone, the monuments should be taken down. American public land has no place for symbols of hate and oppression that spark support from neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
I now look at a Facebook Live of Amanda Chase, a Republican Senator from Virginia, she expresses how, “‘It’s all about shoving this down people’s throats and erasing the history of the white people,’”(Business Insider). This “white” history cannot be idolized as it has been through these monuments. Yes, this history includes innovation and the American spirit but this white history also includes slavery and the oppression of minorities without a balanced perspective. The torture and cruelty the white man imposed on thousands of slaves should never be celebrated, but instead taught in our classrooms and universities as a warning to future generations. We must grow from this history, not memorialize it and pretend it represents something it’s not.
The counter consistently states how these monuments serve as a history lesson but how accurate is this lesson? The men being celebrated are all of one group, white males with power. During this period of acknowledgement, the chance of seeing a minority erected was close to none. Women throughout history have been consistently looked down upon.
This “history” presented through the monuments isn’t accurate or fair. These monuments tell the white story but now it’s time to tell the American story. ”
— Abigail Gallup
The argument to remove all slave owners goes further than that of the Confederate monuments. George Washington for example, was a slave owner but his contribution to America was far greater. The measure of a historical figure’s importance and contribution to America is what should be considered. A Confederate rebel and insurgent whose beliefs were rooted in segregation and white supremacy should not be celebrated and monumentalized on public land. George Washington, arguably one of the most important men in American History, is a perfect example of a person who should be celebrated as opposed to a Confederate insurgent.
Within this argument I find it interesting how much gravity people put on monuments as the sole contributors to history and their lessons. Does Germany have Adolf Hitler monuments and Nazi symbols on public land to remember their history? No, of course not. We are taught about Hitler and the Nazis, but they are not commemorated or remembered on public land as German historical figures. Confederates and white supremacists who fought to tear America apart should not be commemorated. I agree, their history should not be forgotten but public displays of idolization is not how America remembers bigots.
The American people are unsure on how to move forward. This isn’t a simple yes or no argument. Winthrop poll director, Scott Huffman says this, “… 56 percent want to do something other than simply leave the monuments and statues as they are, but these folks are very divided on what should be done,” (Associated Press). At this point, the acknowledgment that some sort of change has to happen is clear. The American people recognize the time to reconcile our wrongs and truly learn from our past.
The continuous debate over Confederate monuments only highlights the voice of the American people. As a nation, we are having an open discussion about our past, acknowledging our faults, and contriving solutions of how to move forward. There are many ways to tackle this issue while ensuring that the integrity of our history is preserved.
One such compromise would be to move these historic statues to scholarly institutions or museums. The history and age of the monument would be protected but the monument would be used as an educational tool as opposed to a public display.
The line between forgetting history and idolizing the past is thin but can be navigated through discussion.”
— Abigail Gallup & Colin Donegan
Another possible solution would be the addition of a plaque that details the history, honorable and dishonorable, of the person being monumentalized. The plaque would give the history behind the monument and the individual, and move away from a direct remembrance into a teachable lesson.
Finally, the last solution would be the addition of monuments that feature minorities that would not have been commemorated during their time. These monuments would teach history by featuring the individuals in the same light as the statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederates.
As a country, it is a necessity to recognize our history as we progress into the future. Confederate monuments serve as a reminder of America’s past, and our need to constantly evolve. As President Theodore Roosevelt said, “The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.”