Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageA detail of Arlington National Cemetery's Confederate Memorial – unveiled in 1914 – depicts a black soldier fighting alongside his white master.Tim Evanson/flickr, CC BY-SA

With the South Carolina legislature coming to a resolution on whether or not to remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds, the next battle looks like it’s going to be over Confederate statues, and the buildings, parks, schools and military bases that have been named after Confederate soldiers.

But there are pitfalls in seizing the political moment to call for elimination of all symbols commemorating the Confederacy. Primarily, there’s a danger that we’ll forget the connections of past racial crimes to current racial inequality.

Confederate memorials abound

Statues of Confederate soldiers are common in the South in a number of courthouse squares, while streets and parks bear the names of people or events associated with the Confederacy.

In Southampton, Virginia, Black Head Signpost Road is named for the head of a slave executed during the Nat Turner Rebellion. (His head was put on a post along the road as a warning.) Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, which runs from Florida to California, was named in the 1920s.

imageA map of Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. Like most Confederate memorials, it was conceived in the 60 years after the end of the Civil War.Stuart Rankin/flickr, CC BY-NC

The Virginia legislature even continues to pay US$5 per year to cemeteries in the state for every Confederate soldier buried in them. (The money is supposed to help preserve the cemeteries.)

In prior years, some cities and institutions have responded to the concerns of those who view these monuments as distasteful symbols of discrimination and oppression. In little towns throughout the South, from Reidsville, North Carolina to Southampton County, Virginia (scene of the Nat Turner Rebellion), Confederate statues have been moved from courthouse squares and town centers to less prominent places, like cemeteries.

Meanwhile, buildings named after Confederate officers (such as Saunders Hall at the University of North Carolina), Klansmen (Simkins Hall at the University of Texas-Austin) and politicians supporting Jim Crow (Governor Charles Aycock at Duke and East Carolina) have been renamed.

But in the wake of the horrific Charleston shootings, the call to remove or rename is getting even louder. Senator Mitch McConnell said Kentucky should consider ridding the the Kentucky State House of its Jefferson Davis statue; there’s a growing call to take down the statute of Robert E Lee in the Lee Traffic Circle in New Orleans; in Memphis, one City Council member drew up an ordinance to remove the statue of Confederate cavalry officer and Klansman Nathan Bedford Forrest from a public park; and Tennessee’s governor has suggested that a bust of Forrest be removed from State Capitol grounds.

Legal obstacles

Some monuments may be so offensive to the local community that they’ll need to be removed. And certainly, they can serve as rallying points for contemporary white supremacists. Others are particularly poignant reminders of the days of slavery and Jim Crow.

imageNew Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu has called for the removal of a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E Lee.Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, in an African American section of Memphis, was renamed because the City Council thought it was an affront to the local population. In such cases, the redistribution of cultural capital may serve to stop a continuing harm.

This is a decision that should largely be made at the local level. However, the legislatures of four states – South Carolina , Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee – have passed Heritage Protection Acts that prohibit the removal of Confederate monuments from public property (or renaming of public buildings).

This movement started in South Carolina in 2000, and the statues were pushed by supporters of Confederate heritage.

A case for preservation

Clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done if we’re going to completely wipe out all traces of names and structures that honor the Confederacy.

However, while I’m no supporter of the Confederacy, there are several reasons not to remove monuments or rename buildings.

As an aside: Confederate flags are entirely different. New flags have to be put up constantly, because they can wear out quickly. Thus, flying a Confederate flag reflects a continuing commitment to maintaining a symbol of white supremacy. Confederate monuments, on the other hand, were almost all erected decades ago.

For this reason, they’re part of our landscape. Yes, they’re reminders of the days of slavery and secession. But they teach important lessons: they point to a Southern political system that, from the 1870s to the 1930s (the period of most frequent commemoration), continued to support the ideals of the Confederacy. They’re graphic reminders of Jim Crow, and the ways white supremacy was codified in statutes, social practices and stone. And they reveal the psychology (however misguided) of an era and people: the fact that white Southerners and their elected leaders believed in the righteousness of their society.

Ultimately, removal of the monuments will, quite literally, erase an unsavory – but important – part of our nation’s history.

In present-day poverty, the echos of a racist past

There’s a second reason to go slow on renaming. It’s important (for individuals, as well as communities) to understand how our past is connected to the present.

The legacy of violence and limited educational and vocational opportunities during the eras of slavery and Jim Crow are undeniably connected to the fact that one-third of African American children today live in poverty.

Those who argue for expanded social welfare spending to alleviate the ravages of poverty make the plea that poverty is related not to personal culpability, but to legacies of racism that have lasted for generations. Confederate statues are tangible symbols of this legacy of oppression.

They’re another reminder of the need for nuance in the telling of our nation’s history; in understanding how we get to where we are today, we need to acknowledge the good along with the bad – which means not tearing it down.

Alfred L Brophy does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/the-next-battleground-will-be-confederate-memorials-and-the-case-for-removal-isnt-so-clear-cut-44218

Writers Wanted

Humans threaten the Antarctic Peninsula's fragile ecosystem. A marine protected area is long overdue

arrow_forward

United States' standing wanes on Lowy Asia Power Index

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Top 3 Accident Law Firms of Riverside County, CA

Do you live in Riverside County and faced an accident and now looking for a trusted Law firm to present your case? If yes, then you have come to the right place. The purpose of the article is to...

News Co - avatar News Co

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

If you operate your business in a neighbourhood or city that is not known for being a safe environment, it is not surprising if you often worry about the safety of your business establishments o...

News Co - avatar News Co

Expert Tips on How to Create a Digital Product to Sell on Your Blog

As the managing director of a growing talent agency, I use the company blog to not only promote my business but as a way to establish ourselves as an authority in our industry. You see, blogs a...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion