Last August I wrote about the first time I saw a Confederate State’s of America (CSA) Monument. I concluded that these memorials and others need to be in public spaces so that we can collectively learn and eventually heal from the trauma that slavery and its aftermath has inflicted on our society. Even in light of the recent violence in Charlottesville, my stance has not changed.
You may ask, why? Are you crazy? My reasons are still the same: Removing them is a form of denial that diminishes our ability as people, and as Americans, to address why they are not symbols of pride for everyone. Without the reminders it is easy for some of us to think, believe, and act as if everything is okay, even when it is not. We can no longer sweep our shameful – Yes! SHAMEFUL! – history under the rug. We need to find more constructive ways to address the legacy that is hurting us. ALL. OF. US.
As I said before, we are “Stuck on Stupid“. We are stupid to believe that removing the symbols of oppression will somehow facilitate lasting change. Historically, and at the moment, doing so has resulted in bloodshed and violence. To me that is just a Band-Aid. In the moment a Band-Aid is helpful, but it doesn’t address why the injury occurred. Keeping it on too long will make it worse. It doesn’t change the past and won’t help the future. Renaming Lee Park – as in Robert E. Lee – to Emancipation Park, which incidentally was the site of the recent Unite the Right rally, or Confederate Memorial Hall to Memorial Hall, as Vanderbilt University decided to do, are only beginnings.
Maybe moving some of the statuary to the National Civil War Museum grounds could be an option. When I was there in 2014 I thought that the surrounding lawn which seemed to be very expansive and bare could be a resting spot for such items. I was struck by the fact that this museum was unbiased in its presentation of the Civil War and includes in its mission and vision statements “the preservation and balanced presentation of the American peoples struggles for survival and healing” and “to be valued as the national destination of choice by all, especially families, students, civil war enthusiasts and historians”. I was equally moved by the image of a slave yoke with barbs as I was the stories of the civilians who survived Sherman’s March. We keep seeing our racial conflict in terms of us vs. them without trying to create a win-win situation.
The events in Charlottesville are a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go. Statues and extremist ideologies are distracting from the real issue at hand. Our greatness as a nation is compromised by our history of inequality. America can never truly be “Great” if there is no acknowledgment of our weaknesses. As the great Dr. MLK Jr. so eloquently stated “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. . . Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily”. It is my point of view that the fight for equality is just now really getting started because we are seeing all sides rather than living in denial of our history.