Pro: Reminders of Racism
Following the recent controversy over the removal of confederate monuments around the country, reporter David Higuchi argues for why these monuments have got to go.
It is important for all Americans to learn the true unfiltered past of our country; however, there is a difference between learning our history, and celebrating our history. America has had a long and troubled history in dealing with race. Confederate monuments do not portray an accurate history and were put up to perpetuate a desire to continue the “lost cause” of the Confederacy.
Should Americans, especially African Americans, be forced to pay taxes for the maintenance of statutes on public grounds that are symbols of white privilege and a desire to return to the ways of the past? Should Kayla Wilson, an African American student who attended Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio be forced to everyday remember our country’s dark history, going to a school which honors a man who fought a war against his own country to continue to enslave people such as her?
Imagine placing swastikas and statues of Hitler across Germany, forcing Jews to live under symbols that represent a hatred toward them. Instead, after the fall of Nazi Germany, concentration camps were preserved and anti-Semitic objects were put into museums, made into objects to be studied and taught, not celebrated. In doing so, they ensure that the unimaginable history of the Holocaust is never lost, but at the same time, never looked fondly back on. Just because something is part of history does not mean it deserves to be respected.
It is a common argument for supports of Confederate monuments, to try to declare monuments part of our history, saying that they remind us of where we came from. However, the idea that the statues, such as the one previously located in Forest Park, are part of our history is wrong.
In fact, almost none of these monuments were placed after the Civil War. These monuments were part of a revisionist campaign to paint the southern cause in the Civil War as justified and ongoing.
According to a report on Confederate monuments by the Southern Poverty Law Center, of the 700+ Confederate monuments in public spaces across the country, there were two distinct periods which saw significant spikes in the creation of monuments. The first began around 1900 as Southern states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise African Americans and re-segregate society after several decades of integration that followed Reconstruction. It lasted well into the 1920s, a period that also saw a strong revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
The second period began in the mid-1950s and continued until the late 1960s, the period encompassing the modern civil rights movement. These statues came as a response to reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement, explicit symbols of white supremacy. This is why Confederate monuments appeared across the entire country, even in parts thousands of miles away from the Confederacy–intending to spread a false narrative of southern pride.
Others argue that these monuments create a slippery slope which would lead to the eventual removal of all of America’s Founding Fathers who owned slaves. There is a difference, however, between Thomas Jefferson, whose practice of slavery comes as a sad but important reminder of the ways of the past, a small side note that comes along his long list of accomplishments, and Confederate generals whose statues today stand for nothing more than the lost cause of the Confederacy. What are Robert E. Lee’s accomplishments besides leading the Confederate army? His name represents the Confederacy and in turn, the oppression of African Americans. Now Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, our third President, has a lot to be remembered for besides being a slave owner.
It is also important to remember there is a difference between removing the statues and destroying them. Confederate monuments can find an appropriate home in museums and cemeteries. I understand the importance of remembering those who died fighting for both sides of the war. Nevertheless, memorials to the fallen of the civil war should not have to be wrapped up in the idolatry of the Confederacy. The reminder can still be there, but they should be displayed in an appropriate and educational manner.
America has had a dark past. One hundred and sixty years of slavery, followed by 100 years of state-sponsored discrimination. Our country should never forget this, but we should never celebrate it.
Con: Monuments of History
Following the recent controversy over the removal of confederate monuments across the country, Senior Managing Editor Charlie Brennan supports the preservation of the statues.
“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.