Afterimage Review Top Trending

What Should America Do About The Monuments Which Commemorate Confederate Soldiers?

Confederate soldiers
Confederate soldier monument, Charlottesville, VA

The mainstream media in the U.S. usually only covers Confederation issue when a city or county government proposes removing or relocating a monument because their presence makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed. Scott Benowitz takes an in-depth view of this controversial issue.

Beginning in June of 2015, the New Orleans city government began discussing removing some of the statues which commemorate Confederate military officers from various locations in the city.  This was controversial, quite a few people in New Orleans advocated for keeping the statues and an equally large number of people were vocal about advocating for dismantling them.  

Finally, after much debate, in May of this year, statutes of Robert E. Lee, Pierre Toutant-Beauregard and Jefferson Davis, as well as an obelisk which commemorated a violent attempted coup of the Louisiana state government in 1874, were removed.

   The topics that were raised during the discussions which led to the decision to remove these monuments were very similar to those in 2015 when the state governments –which were still displaying Confederate flags at the state capitol buildings opted to remove the flags,–and many major chain stores opted to stop selling Confederate flags as well as other related items.

The same questions that people have been asking for the latter half of the 1860’s about whether monuments and flags which commemorate Confederate soldiers, military officers and politicians are symbols of racism and oppression or if these monuments are commemorating historic events are still being actively debated today.

There are still more than 100 statues and monuments which commemorate Confederate military officers, soldiers, and politicians which appear in parks throughout the U.S. today.  These statues and monuments are mostly located in parks in the southern states, although there are some statues and monuments which commemorate soldiers and officers from the Confederacy in parks in some of the Midwestern and the western states too.

Not Quite As Simple As Black And White

For some, monuments of Confederate soldiers and politicians which appear in parks throughout many states are a reminder of slavery and a legacy of racism, segregation, and oppression.

Some people view those monuments as being symbols of racism specifically against African Americans, while others view them in a broader context as being symbols of racism against all people who have felt oppressed.  Other people view them as pieces of history.

For some people, monuments in parks are a means of honoring their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy during the 1860’s.  Even among people are opposed to the principles and the ideologies that the Confederacy represented, some still want to pay respects to their families’ direct ancestors from the 1860’s.

There are also some people who feel that these memorials and monuments send the wrong messages to today’s secessionist movements such as the Alaska independence movement or the parties who advocate for Puerto Rico’s independence.

Some people feel that the presence of these monuments sends the message that if you cannot accomplish the goals of your parties through peaceful means, then don’t be afraid to resort to violence to accomplish your goals.

There are numerous interpretations and views about these monuments because the history of the Reconstruction is as complex as the history of the Civil War and its legacy.

Some former politicians and military officers from the Confederacy later renounced slavery during the Reconstruction era, and they ended up advocating for a future in which people would come closer to embracing equality and tolerance.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that while some monuments, statues, and memorials depict images of officers and soldiers wearing Confederate uniforms. Some Confederate officers and soldiers later joined the Union army during Reconstruction.

Proposals regarding monuments are varied: some people advocate for dismantling all monuments which commemorate Confederate soldiers and officers which appear in parks and recycling them for scrap materials.  Others want to leave them in parks- many of these monuments are more than 100 years old, so why remove them?  

People in a number of cities are advocating for leaving these monuments because they illustrate a piece of history, but they are also advocating for installing more monuments which depict various civil rights activists in the same parks in which memorials depicting Confederate soldiers are displayed.

Some people advocate for leaving the monuments which commemorate Confederate soldiers because they feel that they look dignified and that the presence of those statues makes parks look attractive, while others feel that these monuments look embarrassing in the 21st century.

I side with the groups who are advocating for removing these monuments which commemorate Confederate soldiers from parks and relocating them to history museums, which I feel is the most sensible option in the 21st century.

A Few Words About Historical Context

In 1775, King George III Of Great Britain decided that there was no place for slavery in the American colonies.  He offered freedom to all slaves who escaped and opted to fight for the British, and he’d stated that once British crush the emerging American rebellion, he would end slavery in the American colonies.

Realistically, he probably had no ethical objections to slavery, he was probably looking to recruit more soldiers to fight for the British, but he did propose ending slavery in the American colonies in 1775.  There were hundreds, if not thousands of slaves who escaped, fought for the British, and in the 1780’s, found themselves being recaptured and re-enslaved.

George III, the tyrant who made life miserable throughout the colonies during the 1760’s and the first half of the 1770’s had attempted to free the slaves in 1775.  Many of the architects of our democracy were slave owners, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Where’s the movement which advocates for installing statues of George III in our public parks because his views on abolishing slavery in 1775 were far more progressive than half of our founding fathers’ views were?  Where are the people who advocate for removing monuments which show George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from the country because they were slave owners?

Obviously, those movements don’t exist because it makes impressively little sense to propose removing all sculptures which depict George Washington and Thomas Jefferson or paintings of them in publicly owned buildings from throughout the country, and it makes equally little sense to propose erecting statues of George III.  

I opt to mention the examples of George III, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson because this illustrates that the history of human rights and civil rights in the U.S. are complex issues.  

When we discuss monuments which commemorate Confederate soldiers in parks and portraits and busts which appear in city halls and county and state government office buildings throughout the country, we need to look at them within the full historical context.

I side with the groups who are advocating for removing these monuments which commemorate Confederate soldiers from parks and relocating them to history museums, which I feel is the most sensible option in the 21st century.

 

 

5 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • This is a tough issue to take a balanced approach. But you’ve managed to do just that. I thought I was the only person in the universe to make the connection between abolition following the American Civil War, and the possible abolition that might have followed a British victory in the American Revolution.

    Regarding the statues, I’m halfway to where you are. I’d say, keep some of them where they are, move the rest to museums. And the ones that are removed, should be replaced with Civil Rights leaders. In particular, blacks of the 1860s who advocated abolition, fought for abolition, or participated in the Underground Railroad in some way.

    We shouldn’t erase history, but African Americans feel that White America’s history has been imposed on them. And African Americans have a right to have their history, and their contributions to America remembered and celebrated.

    • Your posts is one of the more enlightened I ever read on this subject. I could give numerous reasons why these monuments should never have been placed on public property in the first place, but what’s past has passed. I say move them to museums or give the to the SCV.

      • This is actually Part I of this article, there’s a Part II coming soon.
        Some of these monuments were actually donated by groups such as the CSV and the United Daughters Of The Confederacy. Those two groups raised funds and hired sculptors to build some of these monuments. They want them displayed in parks for everyone to see, they don’t want these monuments returned back to them where no one will able to see them. I actually agree with the CSV and the UDC that these monuments SHOULD be on display for tourists from throughout the entire world to view them- but in different locations. They want these monuments to be displayed in parks because they state that these monuments are a means of honoring their heritage. I believe that if the cities and counties who now own these monuments are willing to donate them to history museums, then people from throughout the entire world who tour those museums will get to see these monuments. If these monuments are relocated to museums, then there will be no possible room for misinterpreting them as glorifying any sort of racist ideologies, these really will become a visual prop that tour guides can use to teach people from throughout the world about an era in our history.

      • In the forthcoming Part II of this article, I don’t go into a lot of detail about the fact that from a purely legal perspective, everyone who had been part of the Confederate military or any of their government agencies had committed treason against the United States Of America. That’s all been very well documented in numerous other sources since the late 1800’s. It didn’t make sense for the Union to attempt to send close to 1 million people to prison during the latter half of the 1860’s. The Union restored full citizenship status to everyone who had lived in the former Confederate states, and the Union was attempting to make those people feel welcomed back into the United States Of America during the Reconstruction era.
        I concentrate more on the complexities of the events of the 1860’s, I mention many events which tend to be glossed over in high school and junior high school history textbooks, and then I describe my views as to why I feel that these monuments should be relocated to history museums.
        Part II of this article will appear on our website soon, probably sometime next week (during the week of 06/19.)

      • This is actually Part I of this article, there’s a Part II coming soon.
        Some of these monuments were actually donated by groups such as the CSV and the United Daughters Of The Confederacy. Those two groups raised funds and hired sculptors to build some of these monuments. They want them displayed in parks for everyone to see, they don’t want these monuments returned back to them where no one will able to see them. I actually agree with the CSV and the UDC that these monuments SHOULD be on display for tourists from throughout the entire world to view them- but in different locations. They want these monuments to be displayed in parks because they state that these monuments are a means of honoring their heritage. I believe that if the cities and counties who now own these monuments are willing to donate them to history museums, then people from throughout the entire world who tour those museums will get to see these monuments. If these monuments are relocated to museums, then there will be no possible room for interpreting them as glorifying any sort of racist ideologies, these really will become a visual prop that tour guides can use to teach people from throughout the world about an era in our history.

About the author

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Scott lives in Rye, N.Y. photo credit: Liza Margulies

Library

Subscribe to the Newsletter