The news of the removal of various Civil War & Reconstruction monuments in New Orleans is certainly making its rounds. I have not devoted a lot of time or energy to commenting on the issue of monument removal thus far, outside of few statements on Facebook and Twitter. However, as someone who grew up in a South where these monuments blanket the countryside, I want to establish my position on this issue.
I should state first and foremost that I am not in favor of the removal of Confederate monuments. Allow me clarify. I believe that they represent wonderful educational opportunities. They provide an educational opportunity in terms of history and collective memory. The monuments typically tell us a lot about the generation that erected them as much as they tell us about the event that the monuments commemorate. I would like to see more educational opportunities crafted around such monuments for interpretation and analysis, rather than removal.
I do not think that I am alone in thinking that when the monuments are removed, there are lost educational opportunities. Even more so, I am concerned that some of the removals are subject to a mob mentality, current flavor, or the popular sentiment of the time. I hate seeing things disappear due to a fleeting moment or emotional response. This is a sentiment I have seen expressed elsewhere and one I am in agreement with. Granted, I feel some of these concerns can be alleviated by relocating the monuments to a monuments’ yard or museum for proper historical interpretation. Unfortunately, I know many communities will not spend money on such things, opting instead for more frugal options.
That being said, the concerns I pointed out should not be used to dismiss the right of a community to shape its own landscape. Ultimately, communities should reserve the right to erect, preserve, or demolish the monuments they deem necessary. In fact, they must. A democratic society cannot function without choice and the freedom to craft a future in their vision. So although I disagree with monument removal, you will not find me protesting it outside of my community.
After some dialogue on Facebook and the realization that some of my positions can lead to misconceptions, I want to emphasize that my position on this is evolving and not yet set in the proverbial stone. I do want to clarify some positions that I have.
- I am in no way arguing that history will disappear with the removal of these monuments. After the monuments in New Orleans came down, I checked the book shelf in my office just to be certain. Low and behold my histories on Robert E. Lee and other Confederates were still there.
- I do not want my arguments for preservation to fall in line with the prominent arguments of the Southern “Heritage” crowd. (SCV, Neo-Confederates, etc.) Not all Confederate monuments (or any monument) have the same history behind them. We’ve seen examples of this in New Orleans. Some are put there with the emphasis on post-war nostalgia, southern manhood, honor, etc. while others represent a symbolic “DO NOT ENTER” sign for certain races. It all depends on contextualization and the motivations and values of the communities that erected them. The same it true in terms of the motivations and values of the communities now choosing to remove the monuments. I think this is what makes theses monuments important in situ. However, I wouldn’t dare to take serious any arguments suggesting that momument removal is cultural genocide or similar to the destruction of historical sites by ISIS. That’s just preposterous.
- I want to point out a few writings that I’ve found that are becoming more and more instrumental as I craft my opinion on this polarizing issue. The first four of these articles build on one another and I’ve put them in order.
- Christopher A. Graham’s post – “Historians doing historian things on Confederate Monuments is not enough”
- Ashley Luskey’s – “Confederate Iconography, The Next Steps: On Shared Authority, Historical Stewardship, and the Role of the Public Historian”
- Chris Graham’s – “Public Historians, social good, and measures of success”
- Kevin Levin’s – “Confederate Monuments and the Limits of Public History”
- And finally, Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts’s – “Take Down the Confederate Flags, but not the Monuments”
- Please feel free to post writings, comment, or disagree with my position. Like I said, this is an evolving position on this issue and I appreciate civil discourse.