Views on the News: Confederate Monuments
Following the events occurring in Charlottesville, Va., debates over the presence of Confederate monuments in public spaces have intensified. While some feel that Confederate monuments celebrate a history of racism, others feel that they are "a symbol of resistance by ordinary people from the South who stood up to the rapacious North," according to an Aug. 30 New York Times article. Do you feel that the presence of Confederate monuments is harmful, or are they just another aspect of American history that should be preserved?
Prof. Mark Hulliung (HIST)
My belief has long been that the best course of action is not to tear down the Confederate monuments but rather to place them in museums alongside newly created monuments displaying the horrors of slavery. A policy of simply tearing down the monuments plays directly into the hands of bigots and demagogues, such as Donald Trump. Unfortunately, Trump has a point when he says "where will it end?" Few figures in our history are purely innocent. We should not delete Jefferson from our history because of his miserable record on slavery. Far better it is both to hold him accountable and to remember that his words in the Declaration of Independence were invoked by Frederick Douglass and by Martin Luther King to demand full citizenship for all.
Prof. Mark Hulliung (HIST) is a professor of History.
Prof. Abigail Cooper (HIST)
Confederate monuments were mail-order markers of white supremacy erected during Jim Crow during a national retreat from racial justice. They were often paid for with tax dollars of Black citizens with no voting rights. The NYT quote you cite comes from what historians call the “Lost Cause” mythology in which white southerners actively erased slavery and race as factors in secession. These days “anti-racism” packs more of a moral punch than “anti-rapacious North.” What is notable about how this is all going down — it’s not elite northeasterners or federal bureaucrats accelerating local towns’ and universities’ interest in removing Confederate statues — it’s the statues’ defenders’ explicit invocations to white supremacy. It’s more difficult now to say your Confederate symbol is about “heritage not hate” when it has been so effectively employed to unite white nationalists. Taking them down will be up to local communities, but the discussion hitting a nerve outside the South is noteworthy. What I want to see next is bigger than statues — a national reckoning with this country’s history of slavery and its legacy.
Prof. Abigail Cooper (HIST) is a professor of History.
Annie Lieber ’18
In this country, there seems to be an increasing conflation between "preserving" and celebrating some reprehensible and scarring times in our nation’s past. There is a huge difference between continuing to teach about prominent Confederate figures in the American Civil War and memorializing and approving them and their values and actions by continuing to allow statues of and memorials to them and their cause stand. The South lost, and that makes those in the Confederate army rebels and traitors to their country, plain and simple, who do not deserve for the country they actively went against to allow them to be remembered with any kind of sympathy or tacit approval. Because that's what statues are meant to do. While we need to continue to teach about the Civil War — all sides and viewpoints — in an objective manner, elected officials have a right to remove any public statues they wish, so long as they are not blatantly violating laws. And no, the removal of these statues does not violate free speech.
Annie Lieber ’18 is a Politics Undergraduate Departmental Representative.
Ryan McCarthy ’18
One thing to keep in mind is that a majority of these Confederate monuments are not in places of historical significance. Certainly, there are some on the site of former Civil War battlefields or National Historic Landmarks, but by and large, these statues and memorials do not contribute to the historical representation of their location. Often they make little sense: The major highway running parallel to Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon is named "Jefferson Davis Highway." But perhaps worse is the fact that many Confederate monuments are on courthouse or school grounds, public spaces which have been co-opted to glorify traitors to our nation. Confederate symbols have no business in those places, and it makes it clear that these monuments were erected as political statements in defense of a defeated and immoral cause.
Ryan McCarthy ’18 is a History Undergraduate Departmental Representative.