In August 2017, a confrontation spurred by the Charlottesville march and terror attack has emboldened an increase in the support of Confederate symbols. Recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center found in a survey of 2,000 educators a recent increase in verbal harassment, the use of racial slurs, and incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes, and displays of Confederate flags. On one hand, these southern pride symbols and more specifically statues are seen by some as conveying “a noble message”, signifying “honor for ancestors who fought bravely throughout the Civil War for their freedom from Northern influence. However, on the other hand, these statues are perceived by most in modern society as a statement of racial hostility, sending the overt message that Blacks and other Americans of color or non-Christian religions are inferior. Americans have the freedom of speech yet community leaders must safeguard a discrimination-free environment for their citizens.
Now the conversation turns to how we must address statues of controversial persons in history. Many believe what their K-12 history classes taught them, which is that these men were hard-working leaders and pioneers of history. Others see these men as a symbol of divisiveness and blatant racism due to their actions throughout history, determined to maintain a Southern way of life holding on to slavery and beliefs that Blacks were inferior. This brings us to the essence of the conversation which is: what do we do with these statues in our society? The decision to tear them down, keep them up, or move them to a more appropriate location has been left up to leaders of the community of which the monuments reside. I find it interesting that In Germany, they do not have this quandary, there are no statues of Hitler positioned in town squares nor are there high schools named Adolf Hitler High. This discussion has become more difficult because the topic has become so politicized, yet there may be a solution that can still preserve history without celebrating individuals who encouraged racism and slavery.
Robert E. Lee in Virginia
The spark that began this national debate was the violent acts that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. A “Unite the Right” rally protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The protest turned violent with white supremacist chanting derogatory remarks resulting in the death of Heather Heyer. The hate-fueled tragedy put other cities and local towns in a position of having to consider what to do with their statues that may evoke a sense of divisiveness and violence. Major cities in Maryland, Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky held discussions regarding what to do with their confederate statues and monuments which were created during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the early twentieth century.
Since these discussions began, many have made the decision to simply remove these statues. A running list of removals across the country has become increasingly popular. On one hand, these statues continue to remind the American people that you can be a hero and racist while others believe that their heroism overshadows their acts of oppression.
A Possible Solution
It is undeniable that many of these Confederate icons had an impact on American history yet, the celebration of them on pedestals in the middle of various town squares across the U.S. seems to be when issues of conflict arise. Adding context to these statues may begin to aid in identifying and addressing racism throughout history. What is meant by context is creating a hybrid environment where you either balance the number of Confederate statutes with leaders of color in the same location. Another solution would be to add explicit descriptions to the statutes, addressing their white supremacy and the unconstitutional values they upheld even or moving them to a confederate museum where their adverse actions throughout history are taught along with their preserved monumental personas. At minimum we must caste in bronze, these leaders actions and negative influence on the Civil Rights Movement and on American history.