Why we should tread very carefully with statue removals

This is one of the biggest reasons there was so much hand-wringing about the Confederate flag being taken down from the state Capitol grounds in Columbia, S.C., earlier this year. From the Associated Press:

“New Orleans is poised to make a sweeping break with its Confederate past as city leaders decide whether to remove prominent monuments from some of its busiest streets.

“With support from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a majority on the City Council appears ready to take down four monuments, including a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Their ordinance has sparked passionate responses for and against these symbols, and both sides will get one more say at a special council meeting before Thursday’s vote.

“If approved, this would be one of the most sweeping gestures yet by an American city to sever ties with Confederate history.”

The Robert E. Lee Monument in Lee Circle, New Orleans. (AP file photo)

The Robert E. Lee Monument in Lee Circle, New Orleans. (AP file photo)

As I wrote at the time, I favored the flag’s removal in Columbia — but I also understood that some people were reluctant not because they are racists, but because they wonder where the whitewashing of history would stop once it got started. Recall that the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP has even proposed sandblasting the carving off the face of Stone Mountain.

What appears set to happen in New Orleans isn’t going to allay those concerns. There is a counter-proposal, mentioned toward the end of the AP story, to add monuments and rebrand the areas in question: “turning Lee Circle into ‘Generals Circle’ by adding a statue of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, and making Jefferson Davis Parkway into ‘Presidents Avenue’ by adding a statue of Abraham Lincoln.” In general, I think addition is a better option than subtraction. But it’s not clear if such alternatives have a chance in New Orleans.

There is a slippery slope argument here — your hero could be tomorrow’s unacceptable symbol — but I don’t think that quite gets at what’s dangerous here. As long as the discussion is about what to remove, we are talking about inclusion via exclusion. We will not end up with less marginalization if we focus on who is offended by an incomplete telling of history rather than who is buoyed by a more complete rendering. We will just redistribute the marginalization. We will not promote a broader distancing of ourselves from past symbols and causes and heroes that need not define who we are today. We will just harden attachments that otherwise might have softened in time.

If 150 years seems like enough time for everyone to have gotten over a war, recall William Faulkner’s observation: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The past reverberates in the generations that follow, changing each successive one in different ways but never quite vanishing. Removing symbols that have lost their resonance with many will not speed up the process of resolution for the remaining few; it could, perversely, slow that process down.

Reader Comments 0

42 comments
RoadScholar
RoadScholar

We don't need no stinkin' history! (sarc)

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

I really tried to like New Orleans, but boy is it difficult.

The mayor let school buses be flooded and able bodied people who could have driven those buses to evacuate the helpless almost perish in the dome.

Then, and this is the part that just cannot be explained, the people turned around and voted the mayor in for another term.

That explains their thought process and removes any surprise they are trying to erase the past.

Well, they can't erase the Confederate past no more than they can erase the stupid, and I mean stupid votes that put Nagin in office for another term.


Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@JohnnyReb The mayor let school buses be flooded and able bodied people who could have driven those buses to evacuate the helpless almost perish in the dome.


That myth dies hard. 



FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Hedley_Lammar @JohnnyReb

Although WND, this a transcript where Tim Russert questioned Mayor Nagin about his lack of preparation. I've no doubt you can find it at a site more to your liking but the transcript won't change. In his own words...

http://www.wnd.com/2005/09/32288/

There had always been a plan that he failed to put into place. A lot of blame to go around but his plan should've been the first line of defense.

He was like a dear caught in the headlights. He was given plenty of warning to act. He didn't.


RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@JohnnyReb I think Nagin is in jail now, or was in jail for corruption, so he got exactly what he deserved.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@FIGMO2 @Hedley_Lammar @JohnnyReb Bush's cronyism was to blame for a lot of FEMA's response to Katrina.


Who did Bush choose ? A Coast Guard general or someone with experience in such events. Nope.


He put Brownie in charge a lawyer buddy with zero experience handling stuff like that. Fail



Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@Hedley_Lammar @JohnnyReb It's no myth that New Orleans residents knew what was coming, were warned over and over to leave, and many chose not to.

And of course blamed Bush for the results of their stupidity.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@JohnnyReb Big city residents have a well-established pattern of electing scumbags (see "Marion Barry").  That's a big reason for the chronic poverty, crime, and dependency in places like Baltimore, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, ad nauseum.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Sherman organized the systematic slaughter of 5,000,000 bison in order to bring the Plains indian to his knees.

A disgusting human, he was.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@FIGMO2 Absolutely disgusting!  Sherman has a huge statue in President's Park in Washington, DC.  Why are we limiting our history purge to civil war figures and not Indian war figures?  So many statues and so little time, I'm guessing.  

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@RafeHollister @FIGMO2

Personally I don't think Sherman's statue should be on display anywhere given his propensity for fire and indiscriminate destruction.

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

I mostly agree, Mr. Wingfield - we must never forget our past. 

But we must never use reverence for the past to justify the glorification of the evil acts that occurred, either.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Replaced with a statue of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman?

One man's hero is a Plains indian's worst nightmare, as was W.T. Sherman.

The man was enthusiastically brutal in his pursuit to overcome.

No one in their right mind should view HIM as worthy of a statue.

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

Move the statues to a museum. The complete story can be told there .

Caius
Caius

While not a Southern Baptist I will submit their 1995 statement as food for thought in this discussion.  Here is a portion unedited.  You can read it complete at "sbc.net" and I urge you to do so. (Kyle, my apologies for the length, cut it if you must.)


"Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention        Atlanta, Georgia - 1995

WHEREAS, Since its founding in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention has been an effective instrument of God in missions, evangelism, and social ministry; and
WHEREAS, The Scriptures teach that Eve is the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20), and that God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by him (Acts 10:34-35), and that God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth (Acts 17:26); and
WHEREAS, Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and
WHEREAS, Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery; and
WHEREAS, In later years Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans; and
WHEREAS, Racism has led to discrimination, oppression, injustice, and violence, both in the Civil War and throughout the history of our nation; and
WHEREAS, Racism has divided the body of Christ and Southern Baptists in particular, and separated us from our African-American brothers and sisters; and
WHEREAS, Many of our congregations have intentionally and/or unintentionally excluded African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership; and
WHEREAS, Racism profoundly distorts our understanding of Christian morality, leading some Southern Baptists to believe that racial prejudice and discrimination are compatible with the Gospel; and
WHEREAS, Jesus performed the ministry of reconciliation to restore sinners to a right relationship with the Heavenly Father, and to establish right relations among all human beings, especially within the family of faith.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Sesquicentennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, assembled in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we affirm the Bibles teaching that every human life is sacred, and is of equal and immeasurable worth, made in Gods image, regardless of race or ethnicity (Genesis 1:27), and that, with respect to salvation through Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for (we) are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28); and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; …. "

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Caius All well and good, however, historic symbols such as Confederate hero statues is not racism nor a religious issue.

It is entirely possible to mourn, respect the fallen as well as those that survived the war, and honor them without being a racist.

Defeat does not tarnish, only carrying forward unacceptable acts such as slavery and discrimination do so.

It should be noted there are no cries for the rise of another civil war, but instead the grumbling comes from those sided with that victory.  Victory and decades of atonement should be good enough, but it seems no matter what is done or how long, nothing is good enough.

I suggest they look for their problem elsewhere.

It is not Confederate symbols.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Well said Kyle, additions can be considered, but removals are just so PC and shortsighted.  


We should preserve our history.  Revisions and decisions about what was shameful and what was offensive depend on the ideology,  current standards, and the background of the person doing the revision or making the decision.  People in those days had different perspective and approach to life that we don't share, as our life is much, much easier and safer.  Historians have many different ideas about motivation and aims of individuals and often look back and decide that new information recently revealed has changed their prior opinion.  


Why do we have statues of Lincoln  and Grant, when both presided over the shameful genocide of native Americans?  WT Sherman campaigned against and slaughtered native Americans and did untold unnecessary destruction in the South, yet he is honored with a statue.


Do we want to act just like ISIS, when they destroyed Palmyra, because they didn't like what it represented.  It is a slippery slope when you start destroying our history.  Who's hero is next?

MarkVV
MarkVV

@RafeHollister 

“Revisions and decisions about what was shameful and what was offensive depend on the ideology,  current standards, and the background of the person doing the revision or making the decision.

Almost a perfect illustration of moral relativism.So we apply it here to slavery. Next to pre WWII Nazism, fascism …To Stalin era atrocities ...

MarkVV
MarkVV

@RafeHollister @MarkVV  Wrong. I am not comparing my morals with anybody's. At the time we are talking about, in the 19th century, there were plenty of people who had recognized slavery as evil, and their view has been recognized as being right ever since. The same applies to other eras. Nazism has not turned evil after the WWII or recently, it was evil by the standards of the 20th century when it happened.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@MarkVV @RafeHollister Yes, it probably is moral relativism, as is your perspective.  Why are your morals superior to those of the folks who lived in the 19th century?  The conditions they faced influenced the moral standards they lived under.  


You can't compare baseball players from one era with another and you can't compare morals from one era to another.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Removing historical symbols is ridiculous and wrong.

If that and that alone was the Left's only objective, their wishes might be received better.

However, Civil War symbols is only the beginning.

In case you have just awoken from a 100 year sleep, the Left is working very hard to circumvent the Constitution.

What they can't get changed by legislation, they use the Supreme Court which lately has gone against the people's wishes with lame interpretations and fabrication to justify.

The Left openly states a dislike for the Country as founded.

Attention - that goes back way before the war of Northern aggression.

They openly push for Socialism.

I suggest people wake up and realize this is not about how Blacks are offended by Civil War monuments.  That's the cover for something much bigger.

You are a letting a minority decide the majorities fate.

MarkVV
MarkVV

What Kyle does in his writing can be described as sophism, but perhaps it is best to call what he has written a personal opinion lacking persuasiveness.

Many countries of the world have in their history an era or events that can only be called shameful, and they have removed monuments erected once to celebrate those. We do not have to recall the symbols of Nazism in Germany as perhaps an extreme case; we can recall that Russia (and other countries of the eastern bloc) has toppled Stalin’s statues and his body was taken out of a place of display; even Putin would not dream of reversing that. Same with Saddam Hussein and various dictators in countries turned democratic. In many of those cases one could find people and arguments pointing out some good things associated with those banned from public display; they also could talk about “incomplete telling of the history” with similar lack of persuasiveness.

Classof98
Classof98

I'm a white male born and raised in Georgia. I'm very conservative and very proud to be southern.

I also have absolutely no problem with sandblasting the engraving off stone mountain or taking down statues of confederate generals.

Not because they were (necessarily) racist, but because they rebelled against the United States, started a war that cost over half a million lives, and lost.

bu22
bu22

From Ken Burns, "The Civil War" pp 381-382-Union General Chamberlin, one of the heroes of Gettybsburg as the Conferederates surrendered at Appomattox-"Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood; men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death...could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured." Chamberlin had his men snap to attention and give a "soldierly salute."---- If those who suffered at the hands of the rebel army could treat them with respect, why is it so hard for those of you now?

MarkVV
MarkVV

@xxxzzz Would you advise the same arguments regarding German soldiers in WWII, some of whom certainly have shown personal heroism, as a reason for Germans to keep monuments to leaders of the era? 

bu22
bu22

@MarkVV @xxxzzz New Orleans is proposing bringing down monuments to a local General-Beauregard, to General Lee, to Jefferson Davis and to Confederate soldiers.  Jeff Davis IS pretty hard to justify outside of Mississippi and maybe Kentucky.  But the others are different.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

I see a difference in when the monuments were erected. 


If they were put up during the civil rights movement, they clearly weren't erected to celebrate anyone's heritage. 


For these older ones the question is more difficult.



bu22
bu22

@Hedley_Lammar While your point is well taken, much of the Civil Rights movement also coincided with the 100 year anniversary of the Civil War.  It could be hard to distinguish.  The 100 year anniversary brought a lot of attention to the war.

GB101
GB101

@Hedley_Lammar Almost none of the monuments were built during the civil rights movement.   The vast majority are over 100 years old.  The oldest major monuments went up in the 1870s.  By 1915 or so the work tapered off.  

The Real Atlantan
The Real Atlantan

What Mississippi said:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union


So don't tell me that these statues are about heritage, unless you include the heritage was of slavery. Not some lost cause.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@The Real Atlantan I'm not arguing for the legitimacy of the Confederacy or voicing any support for its generals and soldiers on heritage grounds; ICYMI: http://kylewingfield.blog.myajc.com/2015/06/22/that-flag-doesnt-symbolize-the-south-i-know-and-love-take-it-down/

I am, however, arguing that our history is what it is, and we will build a more inclusive telling of that history, warts and all, by adding to the monuments and symbols we display, rather than removing them.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

We really need to remove statues of any president who imprisoned Americans merely because of their race. Surely no social justice crusader could disagree.