So I have decided to make some observations about the Confederate Monuments Controversy. After all I have a little experience on the subject having written a book on the subject of Savannah’s monuments. So here it is.
There are several issues to consider when talking about the Confederate monuments that must be considered. The first is all about place.
Where is the monument placed? Is it placed in front of buildings where justice is meted. Places such as County Courthouses and their squares or Statehouse’s properties where laws are made? This would be the most offensive. They could be viewed as suggesting the power and the laws are meted out by the standards of the old Confederates. Another place they would be offensive is as is the case of Richmond Virginia on a Confederate Row. I can still remember the humbug when an Authur Ashe (the Black Hall of Fame tennis player from Richmond) statue was placed amongst confederate Row. A row or place that glorifies the confederacy in lieu of no other places or other individuals is unfair ‘media time’. If there is not an equal time for other people, times, or causes there is an explicit lifting of the Confederacy above any rank. No cause about a rebellion against our government and the enslavement of others deserves this stature.
This leads to the next question do the monuments in the city’s culture represent all. Are their monuments to the fullness of the city’s culture? In other words are there monuments to African Americans, Asians, and other periods of time. In Charleston the tourist industry is primarily centered in the antebellum period. The glorification of the pre-Civil War era. This is changing some as their tourist industry has become so prominent in their economy and they add museums about slavery. Although slavery is a return to antebellum period and if not careful can be only an amplification of the importance of the antebellum period. As a picture of a community that has embraced more of its culture look at Savannah. The antebellum period is present and they do have a confederate monument but their Revolutionary War monuments are even more evident in the historic district ( i.e, Sgt. Jasper, Casimir Pulaski, Nathaniel Greene monuments and Battlefield Park commemorating the Revolutionary War Battle of Savannah). There are also three monuments on River Street to Savannah’s Maritime History (i.e, Waving Girl, Steamship Savannah, an Anchor for lost mariners at sea, Savannah also has a Ships of the Sea Museum). They also have monuments that mark slavery and honor the African American population two prominent monuments the Haitian Monument and the African American Family Monument and one lesser monument to Louis Toomer. Most of the Civil War history told in Savannah’s historic district is of Sherman’s march, where he stayed, his giving Savannah to President Lincoln as a Christmas Present, the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, and so forth. So the climate of the city is different. That is not to say it is not bereft of racial problems but the story they tell is not saturated with the Civil War and the antebellum period as other southern cities. The history of Savannah is not defined by these two periods but has an ongoing varied history to tell.
Another question about place is does the monument have any connection to place. For no apparent reasons some monuments to Confederates and their cause have been erected in Northern cities. Why? But why are monuments to Stonewall Jackson found in the South where he never was and had no direct connection to the city. If you offer the reason he was a general in the Confederate army, this is odd that you choose to celebrate with a costly monument that is taking limited public space a general of a rebellion from the country we currently live. Do you not have people and events closer to home that need remembering?
The next question is: Why was the monument made? There seems to be to significant differences in the reasons for the monument’s erection according to when it was built. Pre 20th century monuments for the most part appeared to be made as memorials to the dead. Post 20th century monuments for the most part looks as though they were established in a resurgence of white power in the South. That is why you have Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and other Confederate Generals proudly sitting atop their steeds ready for battle once again as the South (read here the old or slavery South) rises again. This makes sense when one thinks about it. The earlier monuments are made in the devastation of the loss of friends and family that the Civil War left. They were also made in the wreckage that the war had left the South. These memorials were made by the people who actually lived the War. They were not built by as persons who only heard about the war. The other monuments are made as the Union troops have long left and the white South is beginning to start their resurgence over blacks through Jim Crow and the ouster of blacks from of their Congressional seats that they had achieved during Reconstruction. The post-Reconstruction monuments are erected not for memorial but for the reassertion of the old South.
The next question is who is it to? A memorial to a general who led a rebellion against the country is one thing. But if the posture is not mournful but triumphant that is a different creature from a disheveled or lone foot soldier at parade rest. If the monument was made to a general who later formed a terrorist group such as the KKK (Nathan Bedford Forrest anyone) one has to question the motivations of those who would want to keep this monument up.
The last question is how is the monument used today? Does it sit and is ignored? This actually can work for and against it. If no one even observes it anymore why do you care if it stays or go? But if a monument has become a symbolic place for alt-right group to meet and use the monument as a symbolic background to bolster themselves in a racist agenda it needs to go. If it is used as a place where racist politicians choose to announce their runs for office makes a difference. So if the alt-right chooses to rally around the preservation of a monument it does make one wonder if the monument should be allowed to stand and has any useful civic good.
In a democratic republic we need to listen to the voices of our minorities. We need to be sure their voices are not only heard but are evidenced in the monuments and names of places we use to remember our history together. Otherwise we lose something as a community. There is no history that is greater than another.