The Monument Debate Continues

In my home state of Kentucky, “A Confederate monument will be removed from a spot near the University of Louisville campus where it has stood since 1895.” I wonder if Lexington will be next? Let’s hope so.

Also, there is a nice piece in the Houston Chronicle this morning on the arguments surrounding changing the name of Sydney Lanier Middle School. My friend and Ph.D. advisor, Eric Walther, is quoted throughout. Here are two of Eric’s quotes:

“Schools that have the names of high-ranking Confederates should change, and statues should go down and be placed in a museum – that is the right spot for them.”

“We don’t want to forget about this war. One side was fighting for a more universal cause of freedom, and the other was not. We should tell the story and let it be.  We shouldn’t purge people or their history. We shouldn’t be Stalinist about this.” 

I agree with this, although with the caveat that it might allow statues of Confederate soldiers – as representatives of the “rightness” of the Confederacy – to remain in the public square. In addition, to place a statue in a museum is no erasure of history, as it allows for the study of the past to continue rather than commemorating the attempt to maintain a slaveholding republic on the North American continent as somehow noble. It is rather, it seems to me, an acknowledgement that we, as a society, no longer share the values of the Confederacy.  By so doing, we all gain.

Finally, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report on “Public Symbols of the Confederacy” around the nation. Their main findings?

“These include:

  • 718 monuments and statues, nearly 300 of which are in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina;
  • 109 public schools named for Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or other Confederate icons;
  • 80 counties and cities named for Confederates;
  • 9 official Confederate holidays in six states; and
  • 10 U.S. military bases named for Confederates.”

I’ve said this before, but does any one believe that the establishments of these symbols across the United States were disconnected from a particular type of politics that, let’s face it, advanced a white supremacist vision of America? Of course not, and thus there is nothing wrong with aspiring to a better politics, one in which these symbols are, to the extent possible, relegated to museums where they can be studied, but extolled as virtuous no more. 

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