“You can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been,” captions a black and white photograph of three bathrooms: one men’s, one women’s and one “colored” in Dr. Paul Hoelscher’s CHS classroom. This poster encapsulates what distinguishes humans from animals — the ability to recognize our history in order to make informed choices in the future.
For 105 years, Forest Park showcased two monuments memorializing this region’s dichotomy during the Civil War. Recently, in St. Louis, this special piece of history, a confederate memorial, was vandalized and then removed.
America must stop removing confederate monuments because by doing so we blot out important perspectives of the past, undermine the freedom of speech and distract from the real issues plaguing society.
Indeed, the Civil War was a pivotal moment for the United States. Soldiers chose allegiances based on geographical location. Americans often look at the Civil War as a fight between good and evil, yet in the end, after the country was reunited, 680 thousand Americans were dead.
These confederate monuments stand to inform Americans about the bloodiest war in our country’s history, and more importantly to recognize St. Louis’ role in the Civil War: sending 30,000 troops to the Confederacy. In addition, the monument, like many others, was erected in 1912 during the Jim Crow Era in the South. At this time the North allowed the suppression of blacks in the South to further political agendas.
Many seek to erase the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South from America’s story, but informed citizens of the twenty-first century must learn both sides of our history, positive and negative. Social activists and historians alike must learn the undoctored version of history.
Many modern issues can be traced to the Confederacy. To address these issues we are best served by understanding, not ignoring our past, no matter how disturbing it may be.
These monuments represent the social progress our country has made. We can not erase history. What is next? The demolition of Monticello or the dismantling of the Gateway Arch a.k.a. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves? Should we change the name of our city because Louis IX forced the Jewish people out of France in the thirteenth century?
We can not change the past. Nor should we cherry pick stories to create an inoffensive narrative. By destroying elements of our nation’s history, we are depriving the future generations of the opportunity to learn from society’s mistakes.
Moreover, confederate monuments represent another tenet of the United States — the freedom of speech. As citizens, it is most important that we protect the right to an unpopular opinion.
The idea that black people should not vote, that women should not go to college and that marriage should only be between a man and a woman were once prevailing opinions. Without the freedom of speech, these ideologies might have persisted.
The removal of Confederate monuments and symbols will not cure our social ills. The Confederate statues are not the cause of the racial education gap, wage disparities, unemployment, crime, drug use or other problems the black community faces. On the contrary, these campaigns to remove American history just distract from the core issues plaguing our society.
In conclusion, the removal of Confederate monuments erode America’s freedom of speech, do not make tangible improvements to the American condition and hinders our understanding of the past which clouds our visions of the future. We will not know where we are going because we will not know where we have been.